Emergency crews in Thailand have reportedly brought four more members of a soccer team to safety, weeks after 12 boys and their coach were trapped in a flooded cave network. Pairs of divers shepherded the boys on the long and painstaking journey out of the cave, navigating muddy and silty water through tight passages.
A total of eight boys are now believed to have been taken out of the cave. The Associated Press reports that four ambulances were seen leaving the area near the network's entrance on Monday, with patients being taken to waiting helicopters. As of early Monday Eastern Time, officials had not confirmed a second round of rescues had taken place; they were similarly cautious after Sunday's operation.
The rescue of the first four team members brought cheers and optimism on Sunday, bolstering hopes that more of the boys can survive a complicated and hours-long process that includes the use of multiple divers and a system of air tanks stashed along the escape route.
The boys, ranging in age from 11-16, have been trapped in the cave system since June 23, after heavy rains flooded the network. They entered the complex with their coach, after a practice — and before a sudden heavy rainstorm hit. Authorities say they want to get them out now, with the threat of more rain and floods looming.
"All conditions are still as good as they were yesterday," Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said, as relayed by the AP. "The boys' strength, the plan — today we are ready like before. And we will do it faster because we are afraid of the rain."
A deluge could overwhelm efforts to lower water levels in the caves – more than 32 million gallons of water were pumped out after the boys were found last Monday.
Giving an update on the four boys who were pulled from the cave on Sunday, Narongsak said, "This morning they said they were hungry and wanted to eat khao pad grapao" — a popular Thai rice dish of meat stir-fried with basil and chili peppers.
Hundreds of spectators and journalists have gathered in the area around the cave, hoping for news that the boys and their coach would emerge safely. More than two weeks after they became trapped, the team's plight has been followed by people around the world.