The first members of a youth soccer team trapped with their coach in a flooded cave in northern Thailand have been rescued and are on their way to hospital, local officials said on Sunday.
Four out of the 12 boys made it out of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex, Narongsak Osottanakorn, the governor of Chiang Rai province and the head of the rescue mission, told reporters in the evening. Other Thai officials initially told reporters that six boys had been rescued.
The rescue mission was due to resume on Monday and would be conducted by the same diving team that retrieved the first four boys, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said Monday.
Anupong said divers needed to place more air canisters along the underwater route to where the boys and their coach are located — a process that can take several hours.
Mission not over yet
DW's correspondent in northern Thailand, Florian Nusch, said rescuers had not expressed concerns about rising water levels in the cave: "I think it is safe to assume that up to this point, authorities are still quite positive about this whole rescue mission so far."
"It is raining," he said. "But it is not the really tropical rainstorm yet."
"We don't know exactly when they will start the second phase of the operation," Nusch said. New oxygen tanks have to be installed and more oxygen has to be pumped into the caves during the 10 to 20 hours before the next rescue operation begins.
"This daunting mission is far from over," he told DW TV. "So we are expecting at least the next two to three days before hopefully everyone will be extracted safely."
What we know so far:
- Four boys were rescued and taken to hospital in the first phase of the operation to free the trapped soccer team.
- The head of the rescue operation said the healthiest boys were the first to be taken out.
- The boys wore full face masks to dive in as a team of 13 foreign and Thai diving experts guided the boys out of the flooded cave complex.
- More oxygen supplies will need to be prepared as the first day of evacuations heavily depleted the rescuers' supplies.
- Several ambulances were seen leaving the cave site while helicopters were also reportedly used to bring the boys to a nearby hospital.
Complicated rescue: Local government officials said 13 foreign divers and five members of Thailand's navy SEAL unit are taking part in the long and dangerous operation to free the 12 young soccer players and their 25-year-old coach. The rescuers and boys will have to contend with navigating tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents, as well as with oxygen-depleted air. A former Thai navy SEAL died making the dive on Friday.
Trapped for two weeks: A massive rescue operation was launched after the boys, aged 11-16, and their coach went missing on June 23. The team and coach were exploring the cave after a practice game when heavy rainfall and flooding cut off their escape route out of the cave and prevented rescuers from finding them for nine days.
What happens next: The head of rescue operations said the next phase of evacuations will resume in 10 to 20 hours. The entire rescue operation, which started on Sunday morning, is expected to take two to three days to complete, as each round trip from the rescue camp in the cave to the site where the boys and their coach are located takes 11 hours. Rescuers are racing against time to evacuate the team and their coach as heavy downpours are expected to hit the area in the next few days.
law, rs/ng (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)