D-Day: Operation to extract Thai cave boys has begun

Rescue team scanning the cave prior to initiating today’s rescue. (Image: Reuters)

A dangerous rescue mission to free 12 schoolboys and their soccer coach trapped inside a Thai cave for two weeks began on Sunday, authorities said, with the first survivor to possibly emerge 11 hours later.

Thirteen foreign divers and five members of Thailand’s elite navy SEAL unit would attempt to bring the boys – some of whom are as young as 11 and not strong swimmers – through narrow, submerged passageways that claimed the life of a former Thai navy diver earlier this week.

“Today is D-Day,” Narongsak Osottanakorn, head of the rescue mission, told reporters. “At 10 am today (0300 GMT) 13 foreign divers went in to extract the children along with 5 Thai navy SEALs”.

He said the first boys could emerge from the cave at around 9 pm local time (1400 GMT).

The rescue mission began after rainshowers soaked the Tham Luang Cave area in northern Chiang Rai province for the past 24 hours, heightening the risks in what the governor has called a “war with water and time” to save the team.

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, went missing with their 25-year-old coach after soccer practice on June 23, setting out to explore the cave complex near the border with Myanmar. A mammoth response operation – including a medical unit, ambulance and helicopter for every boy – is waiting outside the cave for the team to emerge.

Narongsak said the boys could start to emerge as early as 9 pm on Sunday, but that there was “no time limit” and the rescue operation could take a number of days or be halted at any time. An Australian doctor, who is part of Sunday’s rescue mission, checked the health of the boys last night and gave the all clear for the rescue to proceed, Narongsak said.

Media and non-rescue personnel asked to clear cave site area:

A police officer raises a police tape as divers arrive at the Tham Luang cave complex, where 12 schoolboys and their soccer coach are trapped inside a flooded cave, after Thailand’s government instructed members of the media to move out urgently, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 8, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Prior to beginning the rescue mission, Thai authorities asked media and non-rescue personnel to leave the area around the entrance of the cave.

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