Four of the twelve boys trapped with their football coach inside a flooded cave in northern Thailand have been evacuated, with the operation suspended until further notice as the rescue divers recover.
The four, who have not been named, were taken for treatment in a hospital in the provincial capital of Chiang Rai.
In a press conference shortly before 9pm (3pm BST), acting governor Narongsak Osatanakon gave no indication of the boys’ mental or health state, other than saying that they were “well”.
The governor said that the boys, assisted by rescue divers, had come out of the cave at intervals between 5.40pm (11.40am BST) and 7.50pm (1.50pm).
“The rescuers swam through the cave while holding the boys beneath their bodies,” Mr Narongsak said of the perilous journey through narrow caves with jagged edges. The divers are believed to have had to detach their oxygen tanks in order to pass through some of the tightest stretches.
While those rescued are now being treated in hospital after more than two weeks trapped inside the flooded cave, eight boys and their football coach remain perched on a ledge of about 10 square metres.
The governor said that the rescue effort could only resume if the conditions were right, and after the divers had had between 10 and 20 hours to replenish themselves and prepare their equipment to head back.
Officials previously said Sunday was “D-Day” as they face a battle against the clock to extract the children from the narrow Tham Luang cave complex before more monsoon rains descend, potentially trapping them underground for months.
The expert divers have been clocked at about 11 hours for the round trip – more than a mile each way.
Meanwhile, the boys – some of whom it is believed cannot swim – have been learning to use underwater breathing apparatus since they were first located on 2 July.
“I assure you that they are physically and mentally ready to come out, no matter what challenges lie ahead,” the governor said.
Authorities reported that water levels inside the cave network, which stretches some six miles into Doi Nang Non mountain, had been at their lowest in days, with the divers able to walk through the previously flooded areas known as chambers, one, two and three.
A father-daughter duo have been working on alternative rescue apparatus in the form of a giant tube.
Pairojana Toontong is putting his inflatable nylon canvas tube through a series of tests to establish if it is durable enough to handle the jagged edges and acute bends inside the Tham Luang caves.
In the event that it is required, Mr Pairojana’s tubing would be folded down and dragged into the caves before being inflated by a giant fan at the cave’s mouth.
At the other end, rescuers would seal off the tubing, allowing it to expand to a maximum of 70cm in diameter.
On Sunday afternoon, the tube was laid out in a canal gushing with water pumped out of the inundated caves. It was also run through storm water drains and around tight bends to best simulate the rugged terrain.
The boys – who are aged between 11 and 16 – and their 25-year-old coach got stranded after they embarked on an exploration of the cave after a practice football game.
Army Major General Chalongchai Chaiyakam said the entire operation to rescue all 13 could take two to four days – depending on weather and water conditions.
The only way to rescue the boys is by traversing dark and tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents and oxygen-depleted air.
Saman Kunan – a former Navy Seal diver – died while making the dive to try and rescue the boys.
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