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Thai schoolboys found — but cave rescue is far from over

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Thai schoolboys found — but cave rescue is far from over

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Rescuers may have found the 12 schoolboys and their soccer coach who had been trapped in a Thai cave complex for nine days, but the team's ordeal is far from over.

The group could be stuck in the cave "up to three or four months," Ben Reymenants, a locally-based diving instructor who is assisting with the effort, told NBC News Tuesday. Two Thai Navy doctors have volunteered to be "locked up" in the cave with the team, he added.

Another complication is that the boys do not know how to swim.

"The water level in cave is still very high, so we have to teach them how to swim to come out from there," provincial governor Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters.

The handful of rescuers who joined the group in the cave brought food and energy supplements, salt water solution, anti-inflammatory drugs, and basic painkillers, he added. Some of the schoolboys were so weak after their time trapped that they could not walk, according to rescuers.

"We will give them diver masks but only the rescue teams can decide whether they can be brought out safely in this way," he said.

The team, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old assistant coach, set out on June 23 after a soccer game. What was supposed to be a trip to the Tham Luang Nan Non caves in Chiang Rai, a popular tourist attraction in the region, turned into an ordeal that has transfixed the country after rising waters trapped the group.

Rescue efforts were launchedafter parents reported the boys missing,but heavy rains hampered the work with muddy water filling the cave chambers and stopping the divers trying to find the group.

Given the complexity of the operation, the Thai-led multi-national team of rescuers is currently assessing the safest way of extracting the group. With the cave complex still flooded, reaching the boys is arduous and time consuming.

"From the operations center in the third chamber to where they were found, it takes about three hours to get there and three hours to come back," Thai Navy chief, Admiral Naris Pratoomsuwan, told reporters.

While water pumps have been sucking water out of the caves, rescuers would prefer the group walk out rather than swim and dive through the flooded tunnels, a Thai Navy spokesman told NBC News.

So much water has been pumped out from the caves that it has flooded farms nearby, the Bankok Post reported.

Two British divers, John Volanthen and Rick Stanton, were first to reach the boys on Monday evening, according to Bill Whitehouse, the vice chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council.

"Thank you," the boys cried out when they first saw the rescuers.

"How many of you?" one of the rescuers asks. "13?"

"Yes, 13," one of them says.

"Brilliant," the rescuer replies.

"I am very happy," said one of the boys to the rescuers.

Relatives of the boys along with the coach of their soccer league have stayed in tents outside the caves through the rainy weather, waiting for updates from rescuers.

"I want to give him a hug. I miss him very much. In these ten days, how many million seconds does it have, I do miss him every second," Tham Chanthawong, the aunt of the trapped coach, said Tuesday.

A team of Thai divers inspects a water-filled tunnel.
A team of Thai divers inspects a water-filled tunnel.Royal Thai Navy SEAL

When the families got word that the group had been found, there were scenes of jubilation among the families and rescuers alike.

"It was like a party," U.S. Air Force Capt. Jessica Tait told NBC News.

Around 30 members of the U.S. Air Force arrived last Thursday from their base in Okinawa, Japan to assist and advise the Thai government on the rescue. British cave experts, Chinese first responders, and volunteer workers from countries around the world are also on the ground assisting with the effort.

"I would like to say thank you to all the foreigners who have come to help," Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"The work would not be successful if we didn't get help from everyone lending a hand in whatever way they can."