Divers in Thailand rescued four boys out of a group of 12 and their soccer coach who had been trapped by flood waters deep inside a mountain cave for more than two weeks.
Loud cheers and euphoria broke out when the acting governor of Thailand's Chiang Rai state, Narongsak Osatanakorn, announced Sunday that the boys had been brought out of the cave.
The complicated and extremely dangerous operation to bring the other nine to safety has been suspended while rescuers replenish air tanks along the exit tunnel, something that could take several hours. The group is stranded about 4 kilometers inside the cave.
Thailand's Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said the same divers who rescued the four boys will conduct the next operation because they know the cave conditions and what to do.
He said the boys rescued Sunday are strong and safe but need to undergo detailed medical checks.
Authorities believe it could be another four days before all are out. But the clock is ticking.
Rescuers woke to cloudy skies Monday after several hours of heavy monsoon rains overnight. Thailand's Meteorological Department said there was a 60 percent chance of rain Monday with thunderstorms forecast throughout the week.
The rains are causing water levels inside the cave to rise, squeezing the boys in an ever shrinking space inside the cave, and causing oxygen levels to drop.
Thirteen divers from around the world and five Thai navy Seals are involved in the rescue operation. They are considered some of the finest divers in the world, but the operation is incredibly challenging even for such experts.
One volunteer, former Thai navy SEAL Saman Gunan, died Friday while placing spare air tanks along the escape route. He ran out of air trying to swim out of the cave.
None of the trapped boys have ever been diving before; some do not even know how to swim. Two divers are helping each one make his way through very narrow tunnels that twist and turn, and filled with dark muddy water. It takes the divers about eight hours to get into the cave, reach the boys, and bring them back out.
The four rescued boys were taken by ambulance and helicopter to Chaing Rai hospital, where their conditions are described as "not that bad."
The divers also brought out touching notes for the families written by some of the trapped boys.
One boy asked for a fried chicken dinner. Another reminded his parents not to forget his birthday party, while a third said he misses his entire family, but described himself as "happy."
The anxiety-filled families say they have forgiven soccer coach Ekapol Chanthawong who led the boys on what was supposed to be an innocent adventure in cave exploring more than two weeks ago.
The cave began filling with floodwaters, however, blocking their escape route. It took rescuers nine days to locate the group, and the last week to figure out a way to get them out.
The experts say if the boys are not rescued over the next few days, they may have to wait inside the cave for months before the rains ease up and another rescue attempt is made.
Constant pumping has reduced the water level inside the cave, but new rain could not only re-flood the area, but also strengthen the water currents in the narrow passages though which rescuers and the boys must swim with the help of diving gear to exit the cave.
The story of the boys in Thailand has riveted the entire world, including President Donald Trump.
"The U.S. is working very closely with the government of Thailand to help get all of the children out of the cave and to safety. Very brave and talented people," Trump tweeted Sunday.
Source: Voice of America