A Race Against Time And Rain: Thailand Cave Rescue Mission Battles Wet Weather
'Today we are most ready. Today is D-day.'
A daring rescue operation to free 12 boys and their soccer coach who have been trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand for two weeks has officially begun but could take several days.
Thirteen international divers and five Thai Navy SEAL divers will attempt to bring the boys through narrow, submerged passageways that claimed the life of a former Thai diver earlier this week.
Outgoing Chiang Rai province Governor Naronsak Osottanakorn said the divers entered the cave at 10am on Sunday morning (local time).
“Today we are most ready. Today is D-Day,” he told reporters, saying the group was mentally and physically prepared.
Eight Australian divers are reportedly involved in the rescue, including six from the Australian Federal Police and an anaesthetist from Adelaide along with his diving partner.
An Australian doctor, who is also part of the rescue mission, checked the health of the boys on Saturday night and gave the all clear for the mission to proceed.
The children and their coach will be taken out one by one, each accompanied by two divers.
The governor said the first of the boys could emerge as early as 9pm local time on Sunday (midnight AEST), but warned the operation could stop at any time depending on conditions.
“There is no time limit for the operation. It depends on the water and water level. If something changes, we will stop but we expect the operation will finish in a couple of days,” he said.
"If we don't start now, we might lose the chance."
The rescue mission began after rain soaked the Tham Luang Cave area in northern Chiang Rai, heightening the risks in what the governor previously called a "war with water and time".
It's a race against time
Reporting from the scene, Ten Eyewitness News journalist Daniel Sutton posted footage of the rescue area as wet weather began setting in.
"[The area is being] belted with rain -- and all of that rain is going to make its way into the cave where this rescue is taking place right now. It is very much a race against time."
Earlier on Sunday, Ten Eyewitness News understands Thai Navy SEAL divers and international divers held a briefing before authorities ordered an evacuation of the area around the Tham Luang cave complex.
"Assessing the situation now, it is necessary to evacuate the area for the rescue operation,” Mai Sai police commander Komsan Sa-ardluan said over a loudspeaker as a large media pool began packing up equipment.
“Those unrelated to the rescue operation, please evacuate the area immediately.”
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, went missing with their 25-year-old coach after soccer practice on June 23 as they set out to explore the cave complex in a forest park near the border with Myanmar.
With oxygen levels dropping, time had been running thin to teach the boys -- who are not strong swimmers -- to make a dive through dark, narrow passageways.
But the former governor said all stations were now ready.
“We have prepared everyone on land, road and evacuation too. We have prepared the helipad. There are more than 13 ambulances. Now the 13 (boys and coach) of them -- their health and their minds are ready and they are ready to go out," he said.
Thirteen medical teams have been stationed outside the cave -- one for each of the boys and their coach. Each team has its own helicopter and ambulance, along with at least one doctor, two nurses and a paramedic.
“I beg everyone outside to pray for them and support them," the governor said.
He said the boys' families have been briefed and are fully prepared. So far the only direct contact has been through handwritten notes from the boys -- and replies from their parents.
The rescue operation comes after a former member of Thailand’s elite navy SEAL unit died during a dive on Thursday night -- a grim turn in what began two weeks ago as an outing to celebrate the birthday of one of the boys.
Up on the hill, where rescuers had been seeking alternative routes down into the cave, another accident occurred when a vehicle skidded off a dirt track, seriously injuring several people, authorities said.