Operation to rescue boys trapped in Thai cave resumes

Paramedics, believed to be carrying a boy who has been evacuated after being trapped inside a flooded cave, approach a helicopter in Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 8, 2018, in this still image obtained from social media. MANDATORY CREDIT. Chiang Rai Tourist Police/via REUTERS

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – A mission to rescue a group of boys and their soccer coach trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand resumed on Monday, the chief of the mission said, after the first four boys rescued were judged healthy as they recovered in hospital.

The dangerous bid to rescue the boys – aged between 11 and 16 – resumed after a break on Sunday night to replenish oxygen supplies and make other preparations deep inside the cave complex in northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai province.

Authorities have said the mission could take three or four days to complete.

“We have sent the team in at around 11 a.m. (0400 GMT) Hopefully we will have good news in a few hours,” the head of the rescue mission, Narongsak Osottanakorn, told a news conference.

The boys and their coach set out to explore the vast Tham Luang cave complex after soccer practice on June 23, and got trapped when a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.

British divers discovered the 13, huddled on a muddy bank in a partly flooded chamber deep several kilometers inside the complex, on Monday last week.

Then the problem became how to get them out as more rainy season showers loomed.

The rescue began on Sunday.

Divers held the first four boys close to bring them out and each had to wear an oxygen mask, authorities said.

Heavy rain soaked the area overnight, increasing the risks in what has been called a “war with water and time” to save the boys. But the rain largely held off on Monday.

Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda told reporters the rescued boys were in good health in hospital but did not give details.

Authorities have not confirmed the identity of the first four boys freed. Some of the boys’ parents told Reuters they had not been told who had been rescued and that they were not allowed to visit the hospital.

Narongsak said last week they would bring the fittest people in the group out first.

Somboon Sompiangjai, 38, the father of one of the trapped boys, said parents were told by rescuers ahead of Sunday’s operation the “strongest children” would be brought out first.

“We have not been told which child has been brought out … We can’t visit our boys in hospital because they need to be monitored for 48 hours,” Somboon told Reuters.

“I’m hoping for good news today,” he said.

Thirteen foreign divers and five members of Thailand’s elite navy SEAL unit are the main team guiding the boys to safety through narrow, submerged passageways that claimed the life of a former Thai navy diver on Friday.

Narongsak said more personnel were being used in the rescue on Monday.

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