Emergency crews in Thailand brought a second group of four boys to safety on Monday, more than two weeks after 12 boys and their soccer 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 have now been taken out of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave, according to the Thai navy SEAL group, which has a leading role in the rescue operation. The Associated Press reports that four ambulances were seen leaving the area near the cave entrance on Monday, with patients taken to waiting helicopters.
Teams of divers will attempt to get the remaining five people – four boys and their 25-year-old coach – out of the cave system on Tuesday, multiple local media outlets report.
Officials also hope the last phase of the operation goes faster. After the first rescue on Sunday took 11 hours, Monday's mission was finished in nine hours. At a news conference Monday night, Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osattanakorn said the teams are hoping to complete the final extraction in four to five hours, according to Thai Public Broadcasting.
The network says Narongsak attributed the speed gains to "the increased experience with the terrain of the divers, the 100-plus people from different countries who installed the base line and the other support equipment."
It takes around 20 hours to set up all the equipment needed to mount the treacherous rescue attempts, TPB reports.
The retrieval of the first four boys — whose soccer team is known as the Wild Boars — brought cheers and optimism on Sunday, bolstering hopes that more of the boys can survive a complicated 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 cave system. They entered the complex with their 25-year-old coach following a practice — and before a sudden heavy rainstorm hit. Authorities say they want to get them out now, given the looming threat of more rain and floods.
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 alive last Monday.
Giving an update on the four boys pulled from the cave Sunday, Narongsak said, according to the AP: "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. He later clarified that the boys weren't up a meal like that just yet, as they continued to recover.
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. The team's plight has been followed by people around the world.
The effort to save the boys and their coach has involved both foreign divers and members of an elite Thai navy unit. Days after the stranded team was found, a former diver in the Thai SEAL unit died after volunteering to enter the caves and place air tanks along the path.