The first eight boys rescued from a Thai cave complex are in good health overall and some asked for chocolate bread for breakfast, officials said on Tuesday as rescuers began a third and more challenging final mission to free the remaining five.
Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda had said early Monday that the same group of expert divers who took part in Sunday's rescue would return to extricate the others because they know the cave conditions and what to do.
In a briefing just before noon, local time, mission chief Narongsak Osotanakorn - who has become the worldwide face of the rescue effort - said 19 divers (up from 18 on Sunday and Monday) would participate in the final push to bring the unprecedented operation to its conclusion.
At a news conference, Jedsada Chokdumrongsuk, permanent secretary at the Public Health Ministry, said the first four boys rescued, aged 12 to 16, are now able to eat normal food, though they can't yet take the spicy dishes favored by many Thais.
At least two more boys have been rescued from inside Thailand's Tham Luang Nang Non cave as the second phase of a rescue operation to evacuate a teen soccer team and its 25-year-old coach continues. "Everyone is in high spirits and are happy to get out".
Officials are hoping that the final phase of the rescue can be completed in four or five hours, Narongsak said, according to Thai Public Broadcasting.
Narongsak added that medical teams are considering whether to allow them to be reunited with their parents as they are being kept in a quarantined room.
Rescue chief Narongsak Osatanakorn said efforts were expected "quicker or at least as quick as yesterday".
Monday's arrivals from the Tham Luang cave were rushed to hospital in ambulances after spending more than two weeks trapped in the cave. But bursts of monsoon rain caused the water inside the cave to rise, leaving them trapped.More news: Wimbledon 2018: Predicting Men and Women's Finals Before Week 2
A total of eight boys have now been brought out of the cave complex.
Nineteen team members have entered the cave for the third rescue mission, he added.
On Friday, the death of a former Thai navy SEAL underscored the risks.
Jesada said the first four taken out are eating well.
While the boys are in good health, two may have mild lung infection.
Divers inch further in, as an operating base is set up inside "Chamber Three" and hundreds of air tanks and other supplies are pulleyed in.
Rescue personnel prepare the transport for the evacuation of the boys and theirÊsoccer coach trapped in a flooded cave, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 10, 2018 in this photo obtained from social media. His rocket company SpaceX has developed a "tiny, kid-size submarine" to help with the rescue and Musk said it was "ready if needed".
The second group of 4 that were pulled out afterwards are aged between 12 and 14. "Everyone please give us moral support", Mr Narongsak said, to big applause from those present.