At least four of the 12 boys trapped in a cave in northern Thailand for nearly two weeks have been successfully rescued, the Thai navy SEALs said Sunday. Rescue officials told Reuters that the rescued boys were being treated and transported to a local hospital.
The boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach became stranded when they went exploring in the cave after a practice game. Monsoon flooding cut off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for almost 10 days.
Narongsak Osottanakorn, who is in charge of the rescue mission, said Saturday conditions were currently “perfect,” BBC News reports.
“Now and in the next three or four days, the conditions are perfect [for evacuation] in terms of the water, the weather and the boys’ health,” said Narongsak, governor of the Chiang Rai province, where the caves are.
Trump says U.S. “working very closely” with Thai government on rescue
In his first tweet of the day, President Trump says the U.S. is working with Thai officials in the rescue operation:
4 boys successfully rescued, officials say
The SEALs say five of the 18 rescue divers were Thai, with American, Australian and Japanese divers assisting in the effort.
At least 2 boys reportedly emerge safely from cave
Multiple reports citing local officials say at least two of the trapped boys have emerged safely from the cave, arriving much sooner than expected. Reuters reports a local rescue official said the boys are being examined.
“Two kids are out. They are currently at the field hospital near the cave,” Tossathep Boonthong, chief of Chiang Rai’s health department, told Reuters.
The AP reports two ambulances were seen Sunday evening leaving the cave and drove to a nearby helipad where a helicopter was seen taking off. Officials had said earlier that helicopters were on standby to take anyone rescued from the cave to a hospital.
Thai government releases details on rescue effort
The Thai government has released a graphic with details of the rescue effort, BBC News’ Nick Beake reports. The graphic says that two divers are assigned to each boy and are being guided by rope.
Thai navy SEALs vow to bring boys back safely in Facebook post
The Thai navy SEALs, who have been spearheading the rescue effort, have posted a photo on their Facebook page with a vow to bring the trapped team home from a flooded cave.
The unit says in a message: “We, the Thai team and the international team, will bring the Wild Boars home.” That’s the name of the young boys’ team.
Water level in cave has been brought down to level where boys can walk for some of journey
Authorities felt they had a “small window of time to act” to rescue the boys and their coach, CBS News’ Ben Tracy reports from Chiang Rai.
Two divers will be assigned to each child to help them navigate the dangerous, narrow passageways. CBS News has also learned that water level inside the cave has been brought down to a level where the boys can walk for much for the journey rather than swim. That will make the operation less risky.
Heavy rain is in the forecast and oxygen levels in the cave have been dropping to dangerous levels.
“A really, really tricky dive”: A look at some of the rescue’s challenges
It’s estimated that it will take the divers several hours to reach the boys, and then several hours to return. Each rescue is estimated to take about 11 hours, officials said.
As Clevenger noted to CBSN, a diver will need to change tanks, making it a “really, really tricky dive for an experienced diver on his own.”
Clevenger also said another concern will be the oxygen levels. If carbon dioxide builds up and oxygen runs low, it could potentially cause panic, unconsciousness and even death. On Thursday, a former Thai Navy SEAL who was part of the rescue mission died from lack of oxygen, authorities.
Of course, the boys are only now learning to dive, and Clevenger said he normally teaches boys to dive in shallow water, so they can stand up if they panic. In this case, the boys will be going through passageways where they can’t stand up. And even if the boys are with experienced divers, the narrow passageways will make it hard for the experienced divers to check on any boy who might be panicking.
“I think the best rescue option is to teach them to dive, try to get multiple divers watching one boy at a time and just do the best with it,” Clevenger said. “I would say there’s not a good option, there’s just a bset option that we have, but like I said, there’s no good option at this point.”
Rescue mission could take days
The rescue operation began at 10 a.m. local time, and it will take at least 11 hours for the first person to be rescued, Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn said. The rescue mission could take several days.
Both the trapped group and their families had been informed of the plan, BBC News reports.
The boys will be medically evaluated when they are out of the cave. There are 13 ambulances and helicopaters ready to transport the boys to local hospitals if necessary. The nearest hospital is 15 minutes away by helicopter, BBC News reports.
Narongsak said the boys are ready and willing to be brought out. “Their hearts are strong and determined,” he said.
“Today is D-Day,” Thai governor says
A Thai governor says the operation to bring out the boys and their soccer coach from deep inside a cave where they have been trapped for two weeks has begun. The acting Chiang Rai governor has told reporters “today is D-Day” with 13 foreigner and five Thai divers taking part in the rescue.
He says the divers went in at 10 a.m. and the boys will gradually come out accompanied by two divers each. He says the earliest they will come out is 9 p.m. Sunday (10 a.m. ET). The only way to bring them out is by navigating dark and tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents, as well as oxygen-depleted air.
Experienced cave rescue experts consider an underwater escape a last resort, especially with people untrained in diving, as the boys are. The path out is considered especially complicated because of twists and turns in narrow flooded passages.
But the governor supervising the mission said earlier that mild weather and falling water levels over the last few days had created optimal conditions for an underwater evacuation that won’t last if it rains again.
Dozens of divers arrive at cave
Dozens of divers arrived at the Tham Luang cave on Sunday morning and officials set up more tarpaulin sheets blocking off the divers’ operating area.
Officials ask media to clear out
Thai authorities asked media to clear out of the area around the entrance of the cave. “Everyone who is not involved with the operations has to get out of the area immediately,” police announced via loudspeaker, AFP reports.
“From the situation assessment, we need to use the area to help victims,” police said.