CHIANG RAI: It's the "exact moment" rescue personnel have been waiting for.
That's according to mission chief Narongsak Osottanakorn who announced at a press conference that at 10am (local time) on Sunday (Jul 8), 18 divers began the rescue operation of 12 Thai schoolboys and their football coach trapped inside the Tham Luang cave complex since Jun 23.
The team includes 13 foreign cave diving experts and five Thai SEALs.
It takes at least six hours to reach the chamber where the 13 have been stranded in near darkness over the past 16 days, and no fewer than five hours to come out.
Each child will be escorted by two divers and the first is expected to step out of the cave complex at 9pm local time. However, the operation could take longer, given their lack of diving skills.
“We’ve been waiting for this exact moment to begin the evacuation, when we’re all prepared and the survivors’ safety can be 100 per cent guaranteed,” Narongsak told reporters at the Phong Pha sub-district administration office, where the media had relocated after the Tham Luang cave area was cordoned off by authorities on Thursday night.
The area was cleared to allow medics, aid teams and rescuers to operate effectively.
“By ‘prepared’, I referred to the weather, water levels and the survivors’ physical and mental conditions. We’re now fully prepared. And today is our D-day.”
The 18 divers have been clearly instructed on how to retrieve the boys and their coach. The five Thai SEALs, according to Narongsak, are “highly capable of diving in this environment”.
“READY TO COME HOME”
Water levels inside the cave dropped by more than 30cm on Thursday – the lowest level in the past two weeks. Rescuers can now walk from the cave’s entrance through its first, second and third chamber, which lies 1.7km from the area where the 13 survivors are trapped.
A thunderstorm has been forecast, the rescue chief added, and authorities can no longer wait before kicking off the evacuation as more water would need to be pumped out, hindering the rescue operation.
“I can confirm the 13 survivors are more than ready, physically and mentally. They’re determined and well aware of the evacuation procedures. Everyone is ready to come home with us, no matter what they have to face,” Narongsak told reporters.
Their families had been informed of the plan before the evacuation began and agreed with the authorities’ decision.
According to authorities, rescuers could take two to three days to bring out the boys and their coach, depending on the weather and water levels inside the cave complex. The operation will continue until all the 13 survivors are safely brought out.
Over the past few days, the medical emergency response team have carried out drills from day to night in preparation for the Friday evacuation. “We can’t allow any confusion,” the rescue operation chief stressed.
“Let’s support them to complete this mission.”
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