Four more boys have been freed from the cave in Thailand, leaving the remaining four and the coach still trapped. The operation to rescue the football team of 12 and their coach has stopped for the day, according to reports by CNN.
At a press conference on Monday afternoon, Narongsak Osattanakorn, Governor of Chiang Rai province and the head of the joint command center co-ordinating the operation, said rescue teams re-entered the cave system at 11am local time on Monday (2pm Sydney time).
Despite the many challenges ahead, and the death of one diver days ago, he struck an upbeat note: “I expect in the next hours we will have good news.”
Mr Osottanakorn said some of the boys could emerge around 10.30pm AEST. The boys most up to the challenge of diving in the murky waters would be the next to be retrieved.
He said the “water level is not worrisome” even though heavy rains have fallen on the Tham Luang cave system in the country’s north.
Thai authorities have also revealed what food the rescued boys craved most once they emerged.
Mr Osattanakorn said the rescued boys were in good spirits. They were hungry this morning and had requested pad kra pao — a popular dish of spicy basil chicken with rice.
But with the four being kept in isolation, they still won’t be able to embrace their parents — the closest they will get is a wave through a glass screen.
“We are considering to let the parents see the boys. Perhaps visiting him outside the (transparent) glass room,” Mr Osottanakorn was reported as saying.
The perilous journey to rescue the remaining nine could be even more dangerous the second time around, with rescuers today waking to gloomy skies as another thunderstorm looms, following a night of heavy monsoonal rains lashing the mountainous region. There are concerns that rising floodwaters in the cave complex will complicate rescue efforts and affect the evacuation.
Officials have said storms forecast for Chiang Rai province in Thailand’s far north had factored into their decision to go ahead with a complicated and dangerous plan for the boys aged between 11 and 16 and their coach to dive out of the cave.
Four of the boys were rescued on Sunday, but nine remain underground including their 25-year-old soccer coach, Ekkapol Chantawong. The second leg of the risky operation was placed on hold overnight as air canisters were today replenished along the underwater route to where the boys and their coach have been trapped for almost two weeks. Defibrillators were also put in place should the rescue take a bad turn. There were reports the divers re-entered the cave around 10am local time (AEST 1pm) Monday.
Thailand’s Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda revealed the same divers who rescued the four boys were conducting subsequent operations because of their knowledge of the terrain. The announcement came after officials met Monday morning to discuss how to get the remaining nine people out of the cave.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop this morning said lessons from the initial effort would be applied as two more groups of four are brought out of the cave.
“The fact that it took so many hours underscores how precarious this whole mission is,” she said.
Mr Osottanakorn described the first rescue as “our masterpiece work” and claimed the four rescued boys were in “perfect” health — despite earlier reports that one was being “closely monitored”. Contrary to initial reports it’s now believed the weakest boys were selected to come out first, following an assessment by Adelaide cave diver and anaesthetist Dr Richard Harris.
Upon exiting the cave, they were evacuated by helicopter and ambulance to hospital in Chiang Rai province, where they remain.
According to CNN, the boys will spend a day or two in isolation, inside a sterilised isolation unit, as a health precaution. This means they’ll have no physical contact with their parents until the isolation period is over.
Authorities have so far refused to release the identities or conditions of the four who have escaped.
“Don’t ask these kinds of questions. Not wise questions to ask,” Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha told reporters in Bangkok on Monday morning when asked about the conditions of the four.