Thailand cave operation called off for day with 8 now rescued
Four members of the youth soccer team trapped for more than two weeks in a flooded cave in Thailand were freed Monday, bringing the total number of boys rescued to eight.
Six hours after operations restarted on Monday morning, rescue workers carried the first stretcher from the mouth of the cave to a waiting ambulance, which then sped away with its lights flashing.
A Thai military official later confirmed that a boy had emerged around 5 p.m. local time (6 a.m. ET).
Image: A crowd watches as ambulances transport some of the rescued boysA crowd watches as ambulances transport some of the rescued boys to a hospital on Monday.Lauren DeCicca / Getty Images
Three more boys were carried out in the hours that followed, according to a post on the Thai navy SEALs Facebook page. That left four boys and the team's coach trapped inside as the operation was called off for the day.
On Sunday, expert divers brought out the first four of the 13 who were stranded in the huge and waterlogged Tham Luang complex. The same divers were deployed Monday because they were familiar the cave, authorities said.
The four boys rescued Sunday were receiving medical treatment at a hospital in Chiang Rai, around 35 miles away. Its eighth floor has been reserved for the soccer team, their coach and their families — who have maintained a vigil by the cave's entrance while the boys have been underground.
Officials said the boys freed Sunday were hungry but in good health, and had asked for holy basil stir-fried rice, a popular Thai dish.
Somboon Sompiangjai, 38, the father of one of the trapped boys, said parents had been told by rescuers that the "strongest children" would be brought out first.
The 12 boys — ages 11 to 16 — entered the massive cave complex on the frontier of Thailand and Myanmar with their 25-year-old coach on June 23. The group became stranded after torrential monsoon rains caused the system to flood and were missing for nine days before being discovered by two British divers early last week.
Image: Thai rescuePolice and military personnel shield the fifth survivor with umbrellas as he is transported on a stretcher at a military airport in Chiang Rai, Thailand, on Monday.Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP - Getty Images
Ivan Karadzic, a Danish diving instructor who lives in Thailand and who was involved in Sunday's rescue effort as a support diver, said that the operation "went surprisingly well, we were expecting bad things to happen, and they didn't."
He added: "The kids were all totally calm."
Those rescued Sunday traveled more than half a mile underwater, according to Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn, who is the head of the rescue mission.
He said that the decision to try to rescue the boys and their coach was made because conditions inside the cave were the best they could hope for and that water levels were low enough after days of good weather that it was possible to walk through long stretches of the passage.
Narongsak said 13 foreign divers and five Thai navy SEALs took part in the key leg of Sunday's rescue: taking the boys from where they have been sheltering and through dark, tight and twisting passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents.
Two divers accompanied each of the boys, all of whom have been learning to dive only since July 2, when the first searchers found them.
The journey had taken as long as five hours from the part of the cave where the boys are to the exit when the water level was high and the current was strong, but that was down to around 2 ½ hours by Sunday, Karadzic said.
Speaking to NBC's "Today" on Monday, he said: "The main challenge is that we are dealing with young kids that are in no way trained to do cave diving."
Karadzic described the cave as “small, hard to navigate and pitch black unless you have artificial lights.”
He added: “They are some incredibly strong kids considering they have been through what can only be thought to be an absolute nightmare.”