‘Boys Are Physically Ready’ as Rescue Gets Underway, Operation Could Take Days

‘Boys Are Physically Ready’ as Rescue Gets Underway, Operation Could Take Days
The boys, some wrapped in emergency blankets, appear to be in good spirits despite their ordeal. (Thai Navy Seal/Handout via Reuters TV)

The Thai official in charge of the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach says they’re physically ready and mentally determined for their extraction now underway from a partially flooded cave.

Chiang Rai acting Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn told reporters “today is D-Day” with 13 foreigner and five Thai divers taking part in the rescue.

He said that the divers went in at 10 a.m. and the boys will gradually come out accompanied by two divers each. The earliest they will come out is 9 p.m. Sunday (10 a.m. ET).

The only way to bring them out is by navigating dark and tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents, as well as oxygen-depleted air.

Experienced cave rescue experts consider an underwater escape a last resort, especially with people untrained in diving, as the boys are. The path out is considered especially complicated because of twists and turns in narrow flooded passages.

But Narongsak said earlier that mild weather and falling water levels over the last few days had created optimal conditions for an underwater evacuation that won’t last if it rains again.

He says: “If we keep on waiting and the rains come in the next three or four days, our readiness will decrease.”

Authorities had said that incoming monsoon rains that could send water levels in the cave rising, coupled with falling oxygen levels in the enclosed space, added to the urgency of getting those trapped out. Earlier efforts to pump out water from the cave have been set back every time there has been a heavy downpour.

Narongsak said Saturday that experts told him water from new rain could shrink the unflooded space where the boys are sheltering to just 10 square meters (108 square feet).

“I confirm that we are at war with water and time from the first day up to today,” he said Saturday. “Finding the boys doesn’t mean we’ve finished our mission. It is only a small battle we’ve won, but the war has not ended. The war ends when we win all three battles — the battles to search, rescue and send them home.”

An update Saturday from the Thai navy said three navy SEALs were with the boys and their coach, one a doctor. The 13 were having health evaluations and rehabilitation, and were being taught diving skills. Food, electrolyte drinks, drinking water, medicine and oxygen canisters have been delivered to them. A major concern of the rescuers is that oxygen levels in their safe space could fall dangerously low.

Rescuers have been unable to extend a hose pumping oxygen all the way to where the boys are, but have brought them some oxygen tanks.

The boys sounded calm and reassuring in handwritten notes to their families that were made public Saturday. The notes were sent out with divers who made an 11-hour, back-and-forth journey to act as postmen.

One of the boys, identified as Tun, wrote: “Mom and Dad, please don’t worry, I am fine. I’ve told Yod to get ready to take me out for fried chicken. With love.””Don’t be worried, I miss everyone. Grandpa, Uncle, Mom, Dad and siblings, I love you all. I’m happy being here inside, the navy SEALS have taken good care. Love you all,” wrote Mick.”Night loves Dad and Mom and brother, don’t worry about me. Night loves you all,” wrote Night, in the Thai manner of referring to one’s self in the third person.

The most touching note came from one whose name was not clear: “I’m doing fine, but the air is a little cold, but don’t worry. Although, don’t forget to set up my birthday party.”

Another, of indistinct origin, asked their teacher not to give them a lot of homework.

In a letter of his own, the coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, apologized to the boys’ parents for the ordeal.

“To the parents of all the kids, right now the kids are all fine, the crew are taking good care. I promise I will care for the kids as best as possible. I want to say thanks for all the support and I want to apologize to the parents,” he wrote.

Narongsak said 13 ambulances and helicopters in two separate locations are ready to transport them to hospitals. The first is expected to reach safety at 9 p.m. Sunday (10 a.m. ET) at the earliest.

The families of the boys have been informed of the risks and support the mission.

The boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach became stranded when they went exploring in the cave after a practice game June 23. Monsoon flooding cut off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for almost 10 days.

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