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Rescue Operation to Extract the 13 Trapped in Tham Luang Cave has Begun

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CHIANG RAI – The 12 boys and their soccer coach stranded for two weeks in Tham Luang cave complex, are being led out of the cave on foot and by diving with world-class divers including Thai Navy SEALs.

The operation started at 10 a.m. on Sunday former Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn said.

The boys and their 25 year old football coach will wear a full face mask to scuba dive their way out under supervision. Each one will be accompanied by two rescue divers and will follow guide ropes now fixed along the stream from Nern Nom Sao ledge, where the boys and their coach took refuge, to Hall 3—the rescue team’s base.

In the tightest section where only one person can pass through at a time, the oxygen tanks of both the rescuers and the individual boys will have to be detached from their bodies and rolled through the passage.

After all of them reach Hall 3, they will be able to walk to the cave’s main opening.

This extraction method involving scuba diving is fast and needs fewer resources than other methods. However, it requires the very high expertise of the rescuers, and the boys had to be trained to dive and swim. Their morale must be high throughout the operation and they must not panic.

Governor Narongsak said both the survivors and their families have already been informed of the rescue operation.  “The boys are both physically and mentally fit and they all agree with the rescue mission.

They all said they are prepared to encounter whatever lies ahead.”

He told the media that the current weather and conditions in the cave are “most conducive” for the rescue operation.  “The monsoon rains are looming and the window of opportunity to save them is closing.”

Yesterday another 10 members of the rescue mission — part of a team assigned to explore the mountain to look for chimneys that might lead to the cave — were injured when a car they were traveling in fell off a cliff.

Their injures were not believed to be serious.

Rescuers had fed a kilometres-long air pipe into the cave to restore oxygen levels in the chamber where the team was sheltering with medics and expert divers.

More than 100 exploratory holes had also been bored — some shallow, but the longest 400 metres deep — into the mountainside in an attempt to open a second evacuation route and avoid forcing the boys into a dangerous dive through submerged tunnels.

Yesterday Thai Navy SEALS published touching notes scrawled by the trapped footballers to their families, who had been waiting for them agonizingly close by outside the cave entrance.

The boys urged relatives “not to worry” and asked for their favourite food once they were safely evacuated.

In one, Pheerapat, nicknamed “Night”, whose 16th birthday the group were celebrating in the cave when they became stuck on June 23, said: “I love you, Dad, Mum and my sister. You don’t need to be worried about me.”

The site near the cave’s entrance had swelled with media, volunteers and onlookers since the operation started, and authorities’ patience has worn thin.

Mission chief Narongsak said in recent days that medic teams had complained about the media presence and they told him “it will be a problem if they have a real emergency situation”.

By Suwit Rattiwan