Twelfth person rescued from Thai cave on third day of operation

Rescue personnel walk in a cave at the Tham Luang cave complex during a mission to evacuate the remaining members of a soccer team trapped inside, in Chiang Rai, Thailand July 9, 2018, in this photo obtained from social media. MANDATORY CREDIT. Twitter @elonmusk/via REUTERS

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – A twelfth person was rescued on Tuesday from a flooded Thai cave complex where 12 boys and their soccer coach were trapped for more than two weeks, a Reuters witness said, apparently leaving just one more to be brought out to safety.

The perilous mission to save the “Wild Boars” soccer team and their coach has gripped the world for days.

A Reuters witness saw four people being carried out of the Tham Luang cave on stretchers separately on Tuesday, the third day of the rescue operation.

Eight boys were brought out on stretchers over the first two days – four on Sunday and four on Monday.

Officials have not been commenting on the rescue mission as it has been taking place, so it was not clear who had been brought out on Tuesday or what condition they were in.

But a person with knowledge of the rescue said just before the twelfth person was spotted, that in all, 11 of the 13 had been brought out.

The youngsters and their coach got trapped on June 23 while exploring the cave in the northern province of Chiang Rai after soccer practice, when a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.

British divers found the 13, hungry and huddled in darkness on a muddy bank in a partly flooded chamber several kilometres inside the complex, on Monday last week.

A crack team of foreign divers and Thai Navy SEALS has been guiding the boys out through nearly 4 km (2.5 miles) of sometimes submerged, pitch-dark channels.

GRAPHIC: http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/THAILAND-ACCIDENT-CAVE/0100711G258/index.html

The head of the rescue operation, Narongsak Osottanakorn, said earlier on Tuesday the final stage would be “more challenging” because five people would be brought out, not four as on previous days, along with three Navy SEALs who have been staying with the boys since they were found.

Nevertheless, he said the rescuers were gaining experience every day.

“I hope today we will be faster or the same speed as yesterday,” Narongsak said.

Rescuers have been pumping out flood waters but scattered monsoon rain has raised the danger of more water percolating back down through the limestone and coursing through the tunnels.

Authorities said earlier divers had to hold the boys close to bring them as they made their way out along a guide rope, and each boy had to wear an oxygen mask to enable normal breathing.

TRANQUILLIZERS AND QUARANTINE

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who visited the cave on Monday, said the boys had been given tranquillizers to stop them getting stressed on the way out of the cave, but he dismissed any suggestion they had been “sedated”.

“If they were sedated, how would they come out?” he asked reporters.

The eight boys brought out on Sunday and Monday were in good health overall and some asked for chocolate bread for breakfast, officials said.

Two of the boys had suspected lung infections but the four boys from the first group rescued were all walking around in hospital.

Authorities have not confirmed the identity of the rescued boys and some of their parents said they had not been told who had been brought out they were not allowed to visit the hospital where the boys were taken.

Narongsak said the rescued boys had not been identified out of respect for the families whose sons were still trapped.

The boys were still being quarantined from their parents because of the risk of infection and would likely be kept in hospital for a week to undergo tests, officials said earlier on Tuesday.

Technology billionaire Elon Musk went into the cave on Monday and left the rescue team with a “kid-sized” submarine his company SpaceX had built, Thailand’s interior Minister Anupong Paochinda said.

Musk said on Twitter: “Just returned from Cave 3. Mini-sub is ready if needed. It is made of rocket parts & named Wild Boar after kids’ soccer team. Leaving here in case it may be useful in the future.”

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