D-DAY: Chiang Rai Province’s acting governor said that 13 foreign and five Thai divers were taking part in the rescue and that two divers would accompany each boy out
/ AFP, MAE SAI, Thailand
A total of six boys among a group of 12 trapped inside a flooded Thai cave with their assistant soccer coach for more than two weeks have been rescued, Thai authorities said yesterday.
The first two boys emerged about nightfall from the Tham Luang cave complex after navigating a treacherous escape route of more than 4km through twisting, narrow and jagged passageways.
They were followed shortly afterward by four others, leading to an explosion of jubilation on social media in Thailand and around the world as the rescued boys were rushed to hospital.
“Six of them came out,” said a Thai Minister of Defence official, who asked not to be named.
Foreign elite divers and Thai Navy SEALS yesterday morning began the extremely dangerous extraction operation as they raced against time, with imminent monsoon rains threatening more flooding that would doom the rescue operation.
Helicopters and several ambulances were seen departing from the cave area, though there was no official announcement of whom they were carrying.
Officials had said earlier that helicopters were on standby to take anyone rescued from Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai Province to a hospital.
“Today is the D-day. The boys are ready to face any challenges,” rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters near the cave site yesterday morning.
The group became trapped in a cramped chamber deep inside Tham Luang in a mountainous area of northern Thailand on June 23, when they went in after soccer practice and got caught behind rising waters.
Their plight transfixed Thailand and the rest of the world, as authorities struggled to devise a plan to get the boys — aged between 11 and 16 — and their 25-year-old coach out.
The rescue of the first six was a stunning victory in an operation Narongsak had earlier dubbed “Mission Impossible,” and led to cautious optimism that the others would also be saved.
Another official involved in the rescue operation said the initial six who had been saved formed a first group.
A second group made up of the others had also begun the journey from the chamber where they had been trapped, a rescue worker said.
The quick extraction came as a surprise after one of the operation commanders said yesterday morning that the rescue efforts could take several days to complete.
Shortly before announcing that the rescue was under way at 10am, authorities ordered the throngs of media that have gathered at the cave from around the world to leave.
After a short deluge of rain on Saturday night and with more bad weather forecast, Narongsak yesterday said authorities had to act immediately.
“There is no other day that we are more ready than today,” he said. “Otherwise we will lose the opportunity.”
Narongsak had said on Saturday that experts told him water from new rain could shrink the unflooded space where the boys are sheltering.
Narongsak said two divers would escort each of the boys out of the cave.
Additional reporting by AP
One of two ambulances yesterday leave the Tham Luang cave area in northern Thailand hours after an operation began to rescue trapped youth soccer players and their coach, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai Province. Photo: AP
Journalists yesterday wait for the arrival of rescued soccer players and their coach outside a hospital in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand. Photo: EPA-EFE
Finnish diver Mikko Paasi, left, takes part in rescue operations to save a soccer team at Tham Luang cave in Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province yesterday morning. Photo: EPA-EFE
Rescue team members move air tanks at the Tham Luang cave area in Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province yesterday. Photo: AFP
Police are deployed yesterday ahead of the arrival of the rescued soccer players and their assistant coach at a road outside the hospital in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand. Photo: EPA-EFE