Expert divers Sunday rescued four of 12 boys from a flooded cave in northern Thailand where they were trapped with their soccer coach for more than two weeks, as a unsafe and complicated plan unfolded amid heavy rain and the threat of rising water underground.
In a statement released late Sunday afternoon, Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn says "divers will work with medics in the cave to assess the boys' health before determining who will come out first". The rescued children were taken to the hospital, and officials said early Monday that they are strong and safe but need to undergo detailed medical checks. The interior minister Anupong Paojinda was noted saying that officials are meeting on Monday morning to plan the next stage of the operation in order to rescue the remaining 9 students from the cave.
In addition to having no experience diving, the boys have mostly been without food and medicine for two weeks in tight quarters where oxygen is limited. However, it only took 7 hours and 40 minutes.
The boys and their coach had been stranded in Tham Luang Nang Non when they went exploring in the cave after a scrimmage.
They spent nine days unaccounted for inside the cave, before British divers found the emaciated and dishevelled group huddling on a muddy bank.
"It is important to appreciate that the United Kingdom cave divers continue to work alongside the Thai Navy SEAL divers and a combination of cave divers and open water divers from many other nations", the statement said.
The quick extraction came as a surprise after one of the operation commanders said on Sunday morning the rescue efforts could take several days to complete. A former Thai navy SEAL died making the dive on Friday.
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 high-risk rescue dive began with a sense of urgency after authorities could not settle on an alternative means of bringing the boys out.
The rescues were carried out with each diver holding a boy's body underneath him as they swam through the cave, the boy breathing a supply of oxygen, Narongsak said.
Narongsak said that the "same multinational team" that went into the cave on Sunday to retrieve the first four boys was deployed on Monday. So far, two boys have confirmed lung infections.
The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach entered the cave to celebrate a birthday.
The first four boys who were trapped in the cave in Thailand have been rescued and are in "perfect" health.
A total of 13 helicopters were on standby at the beginning of the rescue operation in case they were needed to take the boys and their coach to hospital quickly.
Experienced cave rescue experts consider an underwater escape a last resort, especially with people untrained in diving, as the boys are.
Narongsak earlier cited favorable factors for successful rescue, including the fact that water levels in the cave remain stable amid the current break in the weather, even as the monsoon season looms. It was raining Sunday, but Narongsak was optimistic that the rescue could continue Monday.