- 12 Thai boys, football coach trapped in a flooded cave for over 2 weeks
- Thai authorities said they will begin the hours-long rescue process today
- First rescue expected to be completed by 9 pm local time today
Thai authorities said early Sunday that they would begin an hours-long process of extracting a group of boys and their soccer coach more than two weeks after the group became trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand.
The boys and the coach will dive out of the cave one at a time, each accompanied by a member of a team of international and Thai divers, officials said.
Divers were assigned at 10 a.m. local time, and the rescue will start as soon as possible, officials said. They expect the first rescue to be completed by 9 p.m. Sunday.
"Today is the D-Day for the rescuers," said Narongsak Osottanakorn, the outgoing governor of Chiang Rai province. "We cannot wait any longer."
Water levels have dropped significantly in the cave, so the boys will be able to walk out for part of the way before they have to make a treacherous dive in dark and muddy waters out of the narrow cave passageways, officials said. They will be accompanied by an "all-star" team of 13 international and five Thai divers, officials said. A diver will be assigned to each of the boys and their 25-year-old coach, Ekapol Chanthawong.
"The kids are so strong, physically and mentally," Narongsak said. Officials have said that conditions are as perfect as they can be for the rescue attempt, factoring in the weather and water and oxygen levels in the cave, as well as the boys' health.
The young soccer team and their coach have been trapped in the vast cave system since June 23, when monsoon rains flooded the cave while they were exploring inside. The group was found alive in a small cave chamber on Monday after nine days, mounting an international rescue effort with experts weighing in from all over the world.
But experts have warned that extraction efforts will bear significant risk, underscored by the death of a retired Thai Navy SEAL early Friday morning when he ran out of oxygen during a dive.
Narongsak said that rescuers have assessed the boys' condition and also briefed their families, who are supportive of the rescue plan.
"They are ready in every way," he said.
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