CHIANG RAI: A deafening applause broke among a troop of journalists on Sunday night (Jul 8) in Thailand’s northernmost province of Chiang Rai when its former governor Narongsak Osottanakorn, the man leading one of the most watched rescue operations in the world, finished his first sentence at a press conference.
“After 16 days of waiting, we finally get to see the faces of the Wild Boars today.”
The mission chief was referring to the four schoolboys from the Wild Boars football team who have been successfully evacuated from the waterlogged Tham Luang cave complex. Another eight boys, along with their coach, are still waiting to be rescued from the cave, where they have been trapped in near darkness since Jun 23.
The four children are being treated at Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital in the city centre, 60km away from the massive cave network that has separated them from their families for more than two weeks.
“What we have today is the best situation,” Narongsak told reporters from across the world who were gathered at the Pong Pha sub-district administration office opposite the Tham Luang Forest Park. “All four of them are now safe inside the hospital.”
The remaining nine survivors are to stay put as divers refill air tanks for the next round of evacuation.
WATCH: What the boys and the divers have to go through to make their way out of Tham Luang cave complex
NEXT EVACUATION ON MONDAY
The rescue operation began at 10am local time with the first child expected to emerge at 9pm. By 5.40pm, however, the first boy managed to leave the caves, followed by three more between 5.50pm and 7.50pm. It took about two minutes for the rescue vehicles to transport them to helicopters which later flew them to the city centre.
The four boys were selected to be taken out first based on their health assessment, Narongsak said. Each wore a full-faced diving mask and was escorted out by two divers. The masks are waterproof and allow them to breathe normally.
“Our operation today is more successful than what we’ve hoped for,” he added.
The rescue operation has been put on hold as all the air tanks installed along the evacuation route have been used up and need replacing, according to Narongsak.
The next round of rescue is expected to begin no earlier than 5pm on Monday if the weather condition, water levels and the remaining survivors’ physical as well as mental health are stable.
Previously, rescuers mulled over a few options to get the group out of the cave - including waiting out the monsoon, which could take months. Other options included escaping through a "chimney" that could lead upwards and into fresh air.
But with fresh monsoon rains due, rescuers have warned that the window of opportunity to evacuate the boys is "limited".
READ MORE | Full coverage of the search and rescue operation: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/topic/Thailand-cave-rescue