Rescue workers in northern Thailand have successfully brought the eighth boy out of a flooded cave during day two of a complex rescue mission to retrieve a group of young soccer players and their coach, who have been trapped since June 23.
The first four boys were rescued on Sunday and are in a stable condition in hospital, although their families say they haven’t been allowed to see them yet due to fear of infection.
Four more boys were rescued on day two, with operations now suspended until Tuesday with four boys and their coach still inside the cave, bringing the total to eight.
A large Thai military helicopter has been used to get the eighth boy rescued from the cave system to a hospital in Chiang Rai.
A complex and dangerous rescue operation has required the boys – many of whom can’t swim – to dive through the cave’s dark, tight and twisting passages.
Authorities say the boys rescued so far are happy and in good health.
“This morning they said they were hungry and wanted to eat khao pad grapao,” a local governor said, referring to a Thai dish of meat fried with chili and basil and served over rice.
The first four boys were undergoing medical checks in hospital and were not yet allowed close contact with relatives, who were only able to see them through a glass partition.
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Medical staff involved in the rescue mission say their first assessments when the boys arrive at the hospital will focus on their breathing, signs of hypothermia and an airborne lung infection known as ‘cave disease’.
The disease is caused by bat and bird droppings and can be fatal if untreated and allowed to spread to other parts of the body.
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The first four rescued boys have been placed in a ward set aside specifically for the cave rescue, a source at the hospital said.
The team and their coach had spent nine days unaccounted for inside the cave, before British divers found the emaciated and dishevelled group huddling on a muddy bank above the flooding.
Authorities then struggled to determine the best way to save the “Wild Boar” football team, with the group stuck on a shelf more than four kilometres inside the cave in pitch darkness.
Among the ideas were drilling an escape route through the mountain, or leaving them for months until the monsoon season ended and the flooding subsided.
But with oxygen levels inside dropping to dangerous lows and the prospect of heavy rains flooding the area completely, authorities decided they had to move quickly, and take the group out through the water-filled tunnels.
Dozens of foreign divers and other experts from around the world were brought in to help the rescue effort, working alongside Thai Navy SEALs.
Narongsak described Sunday’s initial rescue bid as “D-Day” when it was launched, and there were fears that any one of many potential pitfalls could prove deadly.
Among these were that none of the boys had scuba diving experience, and that they could easily panic while swimming underwater in darkness.
The death of a former Thai Navy SEAL diver who ran out of oxygen in the cave on Friday underscored the danger of the journey even for professionals.
But after the first four emerged late on Sunday afternoon, hopes began to rise of a fairytale ending to the ordeal.
Narongsak on Sunday described their journey out, escorted by elite divers, as “smooth”.
Crucially, round-the-clock pumping to ease some of the flooding had paid off.
“The water level is still at a satisfactory level and we have enough teams to complete the mission,” Narongsak said on Monday.
For the relatives of the “Wild Boar” team members still inside the cave, an agonising vigil continues.
And rain could still re-emerge as a threat, particularly if there are complications that could delay the extraction further.
Weather forecasters warned heavy rain could hit the area and continue through the week.
Authorities have repeatedly said the rain could re-flood crucial parts of the cave complex that have been drained and make the escape route much harder or even impossible to navigate.
With AP/ Australian Associated Press/AFP