MAE SAI, Thailand — A fifth boy trapped for more than two weeks in a flooded cave here was carried out on a stretcher Monday, according to multiple media reports. Rescuers continued working to save seven more young soccer players and their coach in the second phase of the operation that saw four boys extracted Sunday.
Extracting the boys, ages 11-17, and their 25-year-old coach remains a hazardous task. Sporadic, heavy rainfall adds to the difficulties facing Thai officials since the team hiked into the cave June 23.
Storms were likely to continue at least through Monday as Thailand’s monsoon season gains traction.
Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn said the operation had been put on hold after the rescues Sunday to allow the dive teams to rest and to restock the massive Tham Luang cave complex with oxygen and other equipment needed for the hazardous exit. But the effort was back in full force Monday.
“Yes, one has come out already (today)” a navy official near the cave in Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai province told Reuters.
The team hiked in after a soccer practice before heavy rains flooded parts of the cave, blocking their path out. The boys were found a week ago by a British diving pair who, when told by the boys that all were alive, reacted with a typically British “Brilliant!”
More than 90 rescue workers from around the world have been laboring in the dark, twisting cave, with massive pumps being used to lower water levels.
Narongsak estimated that the precarious journey out could take 10-12 hours for each boy and that extracting everyone could take days. A SEAL involved in preparations for the rescue passed out and died Friday, a sobering reminder of the mission’s dangers.
Most of the boys can’t swim, and two divers escorted each boy through the cave. The first boy emerged at 5:40 p.m. local time Sunday, or 6:40 a.m. EDT, less than eight hours after the rescue operation started. Three more boys came out of the cave over the next two hours.
“We were faster than we expected,” the governor said.
Those judged to be in the best condition were extracted first. The kids were placed in ambulances and given medical assessments before being shuttled, some via helicopters, to Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital, more than 30 miles away.
“We can have good dreams tonight,” the Thai navy SEALs wrote in a post on Facebook.
Narongsak said that there was no time limit on the rescue and that its progress would depend on weather and conditions inside the cave.
“If something changes, we’ll stop,” he said. “But I expect the operation to finish within the next couple of days.
The boys were calm and reassuring in handwritten notes to their families that were transported by divers and made public Saturday.
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.”
Residents of the nearby town of Mae Sai, directly on the border with Myanmar about 7 miles away from the cave entrance, follow the saga of the boys’ disappearance and rescue efforts intently.
“We are talking about it all the time,” said hotel worker Napattra Chokumpompan, 21.
“I watch the news on my phone, my mom is watching on TV,” said Chokumpompan, who graduated from the same school that six of the boys attend, Mae Si Prasitsart School. “They are all of our students, all of our friends, all of our children.”