CHIANG RAI • Four schoolboys were rescued yesterday from the flooded cave where they had been trapped for 15 days with eight football teammates and their coach, marking a breakthrough in a remarkable operation watched by the world.
The rescue mission will resume today to extract the remaining boys and the coach stranded about 5km inside the Tham Luang cave complex near the border with Myanmar, operation commander Narongsak Osottanakorn said at a briefing late last night.
"Our operation was more successful than we expected," said Mr Narongsak, who is also the outgoing governor of Chiang Rai province. "It's a big success for all teams. We have thousands of people helping us with the operation."
Applause erupted as Mr Narongsak said he had met the children and their health is "perfect".
Eighteen divers - 13 foreigners and five from Thailand's navy Seal unit - went into the cave at 10am (11am Singapore time) yesterday, in a bid to bring the boys out before monsoon rains arrived.
The boys, who had no diving experience, navigated through 5km of complex passageways, including a total of 1km of submerged parts escorted by the divers, said Mr Narongsak.
"The boys were wearing full-face masks and were able to breathe normally during the operation," he added.
5.40pm (local time, yesterday)
Two boys emerge from the cave
Another boy comes out
The fourth boy exits the cave
The first two boys emerged from the cave at 5.40pm local time, followed by the other two at 7.40pm and 7.50pm. All four were rushed to a hospital 65km away in Chiang Rai. Mr Narongsak would not say which of the boys were rescued.
The next operation will begin in 10 to 20 hours and will involve 90 divers, he said.
"We have to place new oxygen tanks (along the route) as the previous ones have been used in today's operation," he noted.
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach belong to a local team called Moo Pa (Wild Boars) Academy. The group went missing on June 23 after entering Tham Luang cave.
Their disappearance triggered a massive international search and rescue operation involving officials, soldiers and volunteers from the United States, Britain, Australia, Germany, Japan and China, among others.
The group was found by British cave divers on July 2, emaciated and huddled together on a mound surrounded by floodwaters.
Offers of help and encouragement have poured in, including from Tesla founder Elon Musk and Fifa president Gianni Infantino, who invited the team to the World Cup final.
US President Donald Trump tweeted yesterday: "The US is working very closely with the government of Thailand to help get all of the children out of the cave and to safety. Very brave and talented people!"
Rescue officials said yesterday was the best day to attempt the escape because water levels at many areas inside the cave were at their lowest in 10 days, rendering most of the escape route "walkable".
The risks of the journey through the cave's narrow passageways, in some places no more than 0.6m wide, was driven home last Friday when a former Thai navy diver died after his oxygen supply ran out.
Asked how the authorities had decided which boys were to be taken out first, Mr Narongsak said: "Their health." He did not elaborate.
Officials had estimated that the first boy would emerge only at 9pm - but the boys beat expectations.
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