Plans to rescue the remaining boys are temporarily on hold as rescuers replenish air tanks in the cave system.
Former Chiang Rai Governor and Rescue Chief Narongsak Ossotnakorn has confirmed to reporters the first four boys have been safely rescued from the waterlogged caves and are now in hospital. The first boy left the caves at 5.40pm local time on Sunday 8 July. There are now nine team members, including the 25-year-old coach, still trapped inside.
“I would like to inform the public at home and those who have been giving us support all along, after 16 days, today’s the day we’ve been waiting for, we are seeing the Wild Boars in the flesh now,” Narongsak said.
Ambulances were seen racing from the cave site and the road had been cleared by authorities to allow a quick route to the provincial hospital.
A group of ambulances have left the Tham Luang cave complex after rescue teams freed the first of the trapped boys. pic.twitter.com/Xr04mDifJp
— ABC News (@abcnews) July 8, 2018
The boys have each been led out of by a pair of expert divers and wore full-face masks, which are easier for inexperienced divers to use. They were reportedly able to make the last part of the journey out on foot.
The first phase of the rescue mission was completed hours ahead of schedule.
“Today, everything was very smooth,” Narongsak said. “We have been practising for the past three to four days, rain or shine.”
The underwater escape option had been considered an absolute last resort but it became necessary when heavy monsoon rains were forecast, bringing with it the possibility of flooding the area where the boys were sheltering.
— Matrixity (@Matrixity) July 8, 2018
Narongsak told the media that falling water levels had briefly created a window for an underwater evacuation. He corrected earlier media reports that six of the boys had been successfully evacuated.
He also said rescue workers now need “about 10 hours” to prepare for the next phase of the rescue mission. It is anticipated the remaining rescues will take three or four days to complete.
An extensive operation involving up to 90 divers, including around 50 foreign nationals, is involved in the rescue mission.
Diving and rescue experts had been sceptical the boys could learn to dive and make it through the extremely narrow and dark cave system. Strong currents also added to the difficulty of the rescue.
A perilous rescue mission
The danger of the rescue mission was underscored by the tragic death of Sgt. Major Saman Gunan, a former Thai Navy Seal who was volunteering for the rescue mission. On 5 July local time, he lost consciousness when distributing air tanks inside the caves and could not be revived.
A TRUE BRAVE HERO! ❤
Please take a moment to remember Saman Gunan.
A retired Thai Navy Seal who volunteered to help with the rescue mission but died in the process of supplying oxygen cylinders to the #ThaiCaveBoys#ThailandCaveRescue #ThaiCaveRescue pic.twitter.com/gVzyi5qVNs
— The Hummingbird 🐦 (@SaysHummingbird) July 8, 2018
Workers on the site had tried a number of other options to rescue the boys. Around 100 holes were bored into the mountain, one up to 400 metres deep, in an attempt to find an alternative escape route.
The authorities ordered the assembled media away from the cave entrance to prepare for the evacuation.
The boys have been trapped in the caves since 23 June. They were discovered by British divers on 2 July.