At four of the 12 schoolboys trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand have been rescued, Thai officials say, as rescue operations to save the 12 soccer players and their coach began on Sunday. The outgoing Chiang Rai province Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn in charge of rescue operation called the global divers "all-stars" and the Thai divers "five of our best".
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, went missing with their 25-year-old coach after their soccer practice on June 23 as they set out to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in Northern Thailand. The rising water filled large stretches of the cave, cutting off the team's escape route and keeping rescuers from finding the team for 10 days, CBS News noted.
"Now and in the next three or four days, the conditions are ideal [for evacuation] in terms of the water, the weather and the boys' health", Narongsak in a press conference on Sunday. They are physically and mentally strong, he said.
"Experts' assessments indicate that today is the most ready we can be", Choorat Panngao, Provincial Police Region 5 deputy commander said.
The four children are being treated at Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital in the city centre, 60km away from the massive cave network that has separated them from their families for more than two weeks.
The rescue teams had rehearsed the plan for several days, Mr. Narongsak said, and had managed to drain the water level in the cave considerably, but needed to move fast. The earliest a group was expected to emerge was 9 p.m. Sunday local time. "We're still at war with water and time", he told reporters.
The boys and the coach will dive out of the cave one at a time, each accompanied by a member of a team of global and Thai divers, officials said.
The mission reportedly paused due to depleted oxygen levels in the cave.
A total of 13 helicopters were on standby at the beginning of the rescue operation in case they were needed to take the boys and their coach to hospital quickly.
It was announced the next dive will take place 10 to 20 hours after the first was completed.
The members of the Wild Boar soccer team were found weak but alive on Monday, nine days after they disappeared into the Tham Luang Nang Non cave network in Chiang Rai province.