Expert divers Sunday rescued four of 12 boys from a flooded cave in northern Thailand, as a risky and complicated operation unfolded amid heavy rain and the threat of rising water underground.
The four boys pulled from the cave Sunday in an urgent and unsafe operation that involved them diving through the cave's dark, tight and twisting passages were happy and in good health, authorities said.
The submarine is small and light enough to be carried by two divers, and can navigate through the narrow submerged areas in the cave, which is said to be the biggest challenge in rescuing the children trapped in the cave.
Thais have been fixated on the crisis, hoping desperately for the safe return of the 12 boys and their 25-year-old football coach, after they ventured into the Tham Luang cave complex after practice and became trapped by rising waters more than a fortnight ago.
A search and rescue operation was mounted soon after they were reported missing, and military divers have since rescued five of the boys. Their families were being kept at a distance because of fears of infection and the emaciated-looking boys were eating a rice-based porridge because they were still too weak to take regular food, authorities said.More news: George Clooney injured in auto accident, reports
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.
Alluding to that worry, the regional army commander offered his thanks Monday to the rain god Phra Pirun, imploring him to "keep showing us mercy". "We have more operating personnel". Earlier Monday, Narongsak said the four rescued the day before were in good spirits. "If I ask too much, he might not provide it". The perilous rescues have involved two divers accompanying each of the boys, all of whom have been learning to dive only since July 2, when searchers found them.
But although the eight were rescued, there were concerns they may have contracted an illness while in the cave.
Their friends were full of optimism - and worry. "From what I've seen in the clip, they did look skinny", he said. The search and rescue operation has riveted people both in Thailand and internationally, with journalists from across the globe traveling to this town along the border with Myanmar to report on the ordeal. After Monday's rescues, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited the hospital where the eight freed boys had been taken by helicopter. Workers have been laboring around the clock to pump water out of the cave, and authorities said Monday that heavy downpours overnight did not raise water levels inside. The other, and perhaps more worrying, was that oxygen levels in the complex were falling close to risky levels.
Narongsak said Monday's rescues involving 18 divers and a support team of 100 had taken nine hours, two fewer than the rescues on Sunday. "And we have more expertise than yesterday", he said. The four evacuated on Monday were also hospitalized, although their condition was not announced. The message, like most posted by the SEALs, ended with the fighting cheer adopted from the U.S. Navy: Hooyah.