CHIANG RAI, Thailand — Thai officials on Sunday cleared the media from the area around a cave where a soccer team of boys and their coach have been trapped for more than two weeks amid what was called "the rescue operation."
Officials did not immediately provide details about what, if anything was taking place. But speculation that the authorities were preparing to launch a rescue mission mounted when all media — including Thai press — was banned from the area around the entrance to Tham Luang cave at 7 a.m. on Sunday local time (8 p.m. Saturday ET).
"Assessing the situation now it is necessary to evacuate the area for the rescue operation," said Mae Sai police commander Komsan Sa-ardluan over a loudspeaker. "Those unrelated to the rescue operation, please evacuate the area immediately."
The 12 boys and their coach have been trapped in the cave for more than two weeks. The rescue effort would likely involve scuba-diving them out of the waterlogged cavern where they have been stranded, a diver at the scene said Saturday, but details of any operation Sunday remained unclear.
As reporters filtered away from the site ahead of the 9 a.m. deadline, they crossed path with army medics and expert divers who were arriving.
They entered the site under brooding clouds spitting steady rain. Until Saturday evening, the torrential downpours that had been forecasted had failed to materialize, giving authorities a window to extract water from the cave and give further cave diving training to the boys. The weather broke around 9 p.m. Saturday though, with a deluge hitting the area.
Speaking at a briefing Saturday, Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn had said that an evacuation would start as soon as heavy rains started again.
Several options had been proposed — including drilling holes in the ceiling of the cave to hoist them out and keeping them supplied with sustenance inside the network of passages underneath the mountains on the border of Thailand and Myanmar.
Another option is scuba-diving the team through the narrow, waterlogged passages. Some of those trapped can't swim. Details of how any rescue operation would proceed were not immediately clear.
"Scuba-ing the kids out is the only way," one diver at the cave entrance said Saturday.