Rescuers in Thailand have begun a complicated mission to evacuate 12 young boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave, where they have been trapped for 15 days now.
Rescuers began the mission early Sunday morning, according to head of the rescue mission Narongsak Osottanakorn, who said it would take many hours before the first boy would emerge from the cave.
The boys, aged 11 to 16, along with their 25-year old soccer coach, were found in the cave on Monday after being missing for nine days. They had gone exploring after soccer practice on June 23 and became trapped by heavy rains flooding the cave’s entrance.
According to Narongsak, two divers would accompany each of the boys out of the cave during a journey that would take around 11 hours.
The boys would be guided, one by one, by ropes through dark twisting cave passageways, which are flooded with torrents of muddy and unclear water.
The first boy is expected to be brought out of the cave by around 9:00 pm (1400 GMT), Narongsak said.
Officials did not confirm if the boys would have to dive anytime during the operation; they merely said that water levels had dropped enough for much of the cave network to be walkable.
Eighteen divers, including 13 international divers and five Thai navy SEALs, have been sent into the cave for the operation so far.
The rescue mission is expected to take up to two days.
“Depending on the weather,” officials said they might stop and restart the operation.
The families are informed about the plan and all have agreed, officials said. They also said that the boys are in high spirits and “ready to go.”
A team of Thai Navy SEALs with a navy doctor and a nurse managed to join them inside the cave on Tuesday. A video emerged from inside the cave showing the boys and their coach being treated by the doctor.
Earlier on Sunday, Thai authorities ordered the media to clear the site around the cave, signaling that the rescue effort was imminent.
Making the announcement over a loudspeaker, police Commander Komsan Sa-ardluan called for an evacuation of the area around the Tham Luang cave complex in northern Thailand so that rescuers could “help victims.”
“Everyone who is not involved with the operations has to get out of the area immediately,” he said. “From the situation assessment, we need to use the area to help victims.”
The head of the rescue mission had said on Saturday that weather conditions were “perfect” for the evacuation to begin.
“Now and in the next three or four days, the conditions are perfect [for evacuation] in terms of the water, the weather, and the boys’ health,” he explained.
The boys and their coach are now located in a small chamber four kilometers inside of the cave network, which is no longer thought safe.