Eighteen divers began a daring rescue mission on Sunday to free 12 Thai boys and their football coach from deep inside the Tham Luang cave in Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai province - but the first group is not expected to emerge until late in the evening.
Narongsak Osottanakorn, Chiang Rai’s governor, said the conditions for the rescue were the best they had been since the young football team was discovered by British cave divers on Monday night. They have been trapped for two weeks after being blocked in by rainwater while exploring the cave.
"Today is the D-day. The boys are ready to face any challenges," rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters near the cave site as weather forecasters warned of more monsoon rains late on Sunday that would cause more flooding in the cave.
After an unseasonal dry spell, and furious efforts to pump out deep floodwater from the 2.5-mile narrow passageway separating the boys from the exit, the water was now at its “lowest” levels to date and most of the path was walkable, he said.
“A new storm is coming. If we wait and rain water comes in, our readiness will be lower than now,” said the governor. “I confirm that the kids know about the mission and they are willing and ready to come out.”
The rescue team includes 13 international divers and five Thai navy seals. The rescue operation began at 10am and the boys, aged 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach, will be taken out one by one, accompanied by two divers each.
Maj. Gen. Chalongchai Chaiyakam said the whole operation could take approximately two to four days, "depending on weather and water conditions".
An Australian doctor assessed the boys on Saturday night and gave the all clear for the taxing physical journey. Earlier examinations had concluded that they had been too weakened by the ordeal of their first week with no food to subject them to a perilous dive.
Concerns have been running high all week the children, some of whom reportedly cannot swim, may panic while passing through murky floodwater in a labyrinth of jagged passageways that have challenged even the most experienced of divers.
The death of former Navy Seal diver, Saman Kunan, 38, who ran out of oxygen on Thursday night as he was delivering air tanks through the cave network, highlighted the dangers of an underwater extraction.
But Navy Seals, who have remained with the boys since Monday, have been training them how to use scuba gear, and they may be given full face masks to help keep them calm.
Medical teams have been rehearsing evacuation drills for days, and a helicopter may be used to whisk the boys quickly to hospital.
The media and all unnecessary personnel were asked to leave the entrance of the site on Sunday morning, to give rescue teams more space to work.
Source: The Telegraph