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The Thai navy says at least four boys of a group of 12 and their soccer coach have been rescued from the cave where they had been trapped for over two weeks.
“The fourth Wild Boar is out of the cave,” the navy said in a Facebook post, referring to the name of the boys’ soccer team.
The boys were reportedly in ambulances and are expected to be airlifted to a larger hospital.
Thirteen foreign and five Thai divers are taking part in the rescue effort. Each of the boys will be accompanied by two divers.
Officials say it could take between two to four days before all the boys are evacuated.
Rain is falling in northern Thailand where boys and their coach are trapped on a small bit of dry ground deep in the flooded cave, adding urgency to the task of saving the trapped group.
Meanwhile, the oxygen level in the cave has dropped, taxing the bodies of the captives who have had little to eat or drink while they were missing from June 23 to Monday, when they were located deep within the 10-kilometer cave system in northern Thailand.
Constant pumping has reduced the water level inside the cave, but new rain could not only re-flood the area, but also strengthen the water currents in the narrow passages though which rescuers and the boys must swim with the help of diving gear to exit the cave.
One volunteer, an expert diver, died Thursday while laying spare air tanks along the escape route through narrow, winding flooded passages. Saman Gunan, a former Navy SEAL, ran out of air and drowned on his swim back out of the cave. His death underscores the difficulty of training boys who have not learned to swim and have no experience with diving equipment to make a six-hour trip through conditions that challenge very experienced divers.
“I confirm that we are at war with water and time from the first day up to today,” Chiang Rai Acting Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said Saturday. “Finding the boys doesn’t mean we’ve finished our mission. It is only a small battle we’ve won, but the war has not ended. The war ends when we win all three battles — the battles to search, rescue and send them home.”
In the days since they were found in the cave, the boys have written notes to their families expressing optimism and encouraging them not to worry. One boy’s note said: “I’m doing fine, but the air is a little cold, but don’t worry. Although, don’t forget to set up my birthday party.”
The 25-year-old soccer coach has written as well, thanking people for support and apologizing to the parents of the boys.