Four of 12 Thai schoolboys were rescued from a flooded cave in Northern Thailand on Sunday as divers launched a daring mission to free the children and their soccer coach who have been trapped underground for more than two weeks.
Thirteen foreign divers and five members of Thailand's elite navy SEAL unit guided the boys to safety through narrow, submerged passageways that claimed the life of a former Thai navy diver on Friday.
Chief of Chiang Rai's health department, Tossathep Boonthong and part of the rescue team, said the four boys, aged between 11 and 16, were brought to a "field hospital near the cave" after being brought back to the surface.
Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn held a press conference near the site of the cave, where he described the "very smooth operation," he said the boys were rescued using full face masks.
He said the clock is continuing to tick for the remaining boys, and rescuers are going to focus on replacing the oxygen tanks so they can continue the operation. He said he didn't know when they would be able resume getting out the boys, but he estimated in approximately 10 hours, but no more than 20.
“Today is D-Day,” he earlier told reporters.
Bursts of heavy monsoon rain soaked the Tham Luang Cave area in northern Chiang Rai province on Sunday and storms were expected in the coming weeks, increasing the risks in what has been called a “war with water and time” to save the team.
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, went missing with their 25-year-old coach after soccer practice on June 23, setting out on an adventure to explore the cave complex near the border with Myanmar.
Rescuing them all could take three to four days and depended on the weather, an army commander involved in the mission said.
The rescue teams had rehearsed the plan for several days, Narongsak said, and had managed to drain the water level in the cave considerably, but needed to move fast.