Four players from the missing Thai football team that became trapped inside a flooded cave have been rescued after divers pulled off a complex rescue mission while racing against the clock.
Thirty-five emergency doctors were on standby as the ‘exhausted’ boys were flown by military helicopter or driven in ambulances to Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital.
Divers will not be rescuing the remaining eight children tonight, the Thai Public Broadcast DC escort service announced, reporting: ‘Only six of the boys will be taken out tonight.’
However, authorities later confirmed they had only been able to rescue four boys, instead of the planned six.
The other eight players – and their coach – will remain underground and be rescued tomorrow, the state-funded news DC escort agency said. Divers are expected to re-enter the caves in between ten and twenty hours’ time because there were not enough air tanks along the route to continue, an official said.
A staggering 90 divers have been involved in the rescue in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex, with only 40 of them coming from Thailand.
The starved and exhausted players were carried on stretchers from an ambulance to a helicopter near the caves before being flown to hospital
Ambulances have been seen driving away from the cave complex and heading for hospital 35 miles away. The most seriously ill were flown in a military helicopter
Thai doctors and nurses are on standby for the arrival of children after being rescued from Tham Luang cave, at the hospital in Chiang Rai province
The boys and their coach have spent 15 days trapped in the complex cave network below the Mae Sai mountains, in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, after wandering in to explore.
The condition of one of the first two boys rescued is ‘causing concern’, according to a senior health chief.
It’s thought the starved and exhausted children were flown in a military helicopter 35 miles away to be treated.
Pictures showed the youngsters being stretchered from ambulances to helicopters after the incredible cave rescue.
Speaking after the first rescue, Governor Narongsak hailed today’s mission as a success.
He said: ‘After 16 days of waiting today we finally see the faces of the Wild Boars. Today is the best situation that allow us to carry out the evacuation operation. All of the four boys have been sent to the hospital and all of them are safe.’
The Governor said the mission would only resume when conditions inside the cave were suitable.
Images from Thai TV show the boys were being brought out on stretchers to a waiting helicopter after being helped out of the water with two divers per child
The young boys had been in the cave system for more than 15 days at the time of rescue – while eight will remain for another evening
Four boys trapped in Thai cave were treated in the back of an ambulance as it drove them towards awaiting helicopters
An ambulance arrives at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital, located 35 miles from the cave system. It’s not known how many kids are at the hospital so far
Another ambulance is seen arriving at the hospital where 35 emergency doctors are on standby waiting on the kids’ arrival
As soon as the children were brought out of the cave they were driven via ambulance to a helicopter on standby (pictured)
The helicopter was waiting to take boys to safety as a team of 35 medics waited for them at a hospital in Chiang Rai, Thailand
The chopper then took off headed for the hospital located 35 miles away
A military helicopter believed to be carrying the first two rescued schoolboys takes off near the caves and heads for Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital
An ambulance carrying the first two players transports the players away from the caves toward the awaiting helicopter
An ambulance headed to the Tham Luang caves to collect the first two boys who were alive and well after being rescued
Paramedics drove the boys to awaiting helicopters which flew 35 miles to the nearest hospital where doctors were on standby
The governor said: ‘This morning we expected the first boy to come out at about 9pm. But it turned out that the first boy came out at 5.40pm.
‘The second boy came out between ten and 20 minutes after that.
‘We transferred the first two to the hospital immediately.
‘And the other two – the third and fourth boys – came out at 7.40pm and 7.50pm respectively.
‘So we can conclude that we have successfully rescued four children today.
‘For the rest of the boys, the evacuation operation will resume when the conditions are suitable.
‘I cannot say exactly when we will resume the mission but there will be a break of between ten and 20 hours to assess the operation so far.
‘The reason why we have to wait before we can resume the mission is because we have to start the whole operation again.
‘This includes carrying the air tanks into the cave because all of the air tanks have been used up now.
‘The most important thing is that the mission will resume when we have the best conditions possible, as we did today.
‘We will restart the operation when we are confident that the conditions are suitable.’
An extraction team of 18 divers, including five Thai Navy SEALs, started their ‘extremely dangerous’ operation at 10am local time after the boys’ anxious families were informed.
All of the youngsters and their 25-year-old coach were expected to emerge one by one from the cave today, Governor Narongsak said, but six families were told this afternoon they will have to wait.
Each boy pulled out was accompanied by two divers on the perilous 4km (2.5miles) journey through murky waters and narrow tunnels. It’s understood they were able to walk most of the way after teams drained the water level by 30cm (12ins) last night.
According to Thai media the trapped boys were expected to be divided into four groups – with the first group containing four boys and the second, third and fourth containing three players each.
The boys are trapped 800 metres below ground, which is the equivalent of two Empire State Buildings on top of one another.
‘Today is D-Day,’ the governor who has led the rescue announced. ‘The water level has reached the lowest it has been in ten days. We ask to pray that this operation is a success.’
Thai military personnel inside a cave complex during the ongoing rescue operations for the youth soccer team and their assistant coach, at Tham Luang cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park
Thousands of rescuers including Thai Navy SEALs and elite British divers have been working around the clock to come up with a plan to bring the exhausted and starved boys home safely
But with gathering clouds that have already thundered down heavy rain for 90 minutes on Saturday night, authorities are anxious to push ahead before it’s too late
Ruamkatanyu Foundation rescuers are seen drilling into the Tham Luang cave’s chambers as the rescue mission gets underway
Divers are seen trekking through the cave’s murky waters as they crouch to navigate their way through its narrow passages
Coming home: The evacuation of 12 schoolboys trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand has begun and they could be out by tonight, the rescue commander announced on Sunday morning
The Thai government releases graphic about the mission. Rescuers will wear full face masks, there will be two divers accompanying each boy and they’ll be guided by rope. They walk from Chamber 3 to mouth of cave
Fresh oxygen canisters are being delivered to the mouth of the cave as oxygen levels in the depths of the cave are scarce
Volunteers delivery free food near Tham Luang cave complex, where 12 schoolboys and their soccer coach are trapped inside a flooded cave
Family members and Buddhist monks come out from the Tham Luang cave complex as divers enter the tunnels for their mission
Volunteers give massage for a soldier near Tham Luang. The rescuers are having to squeeze their bodies through the cave’s tiny chambers to reach the boys
U.S. military personnel arrive at the Tham Luang cave complex where the extraction mission started at 10am local time
Thai police stand guard near a cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach have been trapped for 16 days since June 23
A police officer stands guard at a checkpoint outside the Tham Luang cave complex after Thailand’s government instructed members of the media to move out urgently
Media staff leave the area around the entrance of the cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach have been trapped for two weeks
Rescue workers arrive at the Tham Luang cave system as the rescue mission to bring the boys to safety gets underway
Experienced divers from all over the world are pictured making their way into the cave system which has already claimed the life of one rescuer
Finnish diver Mikko Paasi is one of many divers from all over the world who’ve joined in the rescue mission
Police stand guard outside the Tham Luang cave complex. The youngsters will be led out of the cave one by one and taken directly to hospital
Left: Thai navy seals posted this image on their Facebook page showing two Thai divers and one international diver before starting their rescue mission. The caption reads: ‘We, the Thai navy Seals, along with the international diver team, are ready to bring the soccer team home!’ Right: A rescue worker moves oxygen
Journalists and non-essential personnel are ordered to leave the cave site and surrounding roads as the rescue operation begins to evacuate the trapped soccer team
Australian military personnel outside the Tham Luang cave complex, where 12 schoolboys and their soccer coach are trapped inside a flooded cave
Soldiers stand guard after removing members of the media from the vicinity of the cave under instructions from the Thai government
Thai nurses wait outside the Chaingrai Prachanukroh Hospital, where the schoolboys will be brought after being rescued
They stand at the ready with portable hospital beds waiting to wheel the children and their coach into the hospital for treatment
Bursts of heavy monsoon rain soaked the Tham Luang Cave area in northern Chiang Rai province throughout Sunday.
The operation was earlier called a ‘war with water and time’ to save the team.
A source at the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital said five emergency response doctors were awaiting the party and a further 30 doctors were on stand-by, adding that everyone was feeling tense.
Today is D-Day: Thai governor announces rescue mission
Today we are most ready. Today is D-Day. Today at 10am, 13 foreign divers went in to extract the children, along with five [Thai] navy Seals.
As we look at the weather forecast, a storm is coming and torrential rain is expected, then our 100 per cent readiness will decrease and we will have to pump the water out again
The kids are very determined and they are in high spirits. All 13 kids have been informed about the operation and they are ready to come out. They firmly decided to come out with us.
The families of the kids have been informed and they agree with us.
We’ve rehearsed [the medical preparations] for the past three to four days. We even practiced with a real kid – practicing the position of O2 tank and the marking … I assure you that we are very ready in this mission.
I ask you all to patiently wait for news and send support and wish them success.
The most critical were airlifted by helicopters while the less fragile will be transported by ambulance.
All of the boys have been told about the operation, which is being watched eagerly around the world, and they are ready to come out, the governor said.
‘They are very strong and determined to come out and be reunited with their families.’
The idea of inserting an inflatable nylon tube into the cave system to create an underwater tunnel for the trapped boys to crawl out of is being tested near the caves.
Tech billionaire Elon Musk mooted the idea on Friday as a possible solution to bring the boys, who can’t swim, to safety without having to be in the water.
Thai rescuers were pictured with the inflatable tube near the cave system as the rescue mission got underway today.
The evacuation is taking place on the 16th day of the operation. The mission got underway as the monsoon storm clouds finally burst open, with rain showers drenching the mountainous countryside.
‘This is the best day for the operation,’ the Governor said.
‘The boys were given a medical examination yesterday by a specialist doctor who confirmed that they were well enough to be evacuated.
‘If we did not carry out the mission today we might not have been able to get them out.
‘I appeal to everyone around the world who has been following the tragic case for your support for the boys and the rescuers.’
The rescue mission could take three days to complete as the other six remain inside.
‘This is an all-star team of divers,’ Governor Narongsak said.
Thai authorities removed the media – including dozens of foreign TV networks, photographers and journalists – from the area around the entrance of the cave this morning.
A female escort in Washington DC relative shows a collage of pictures before family and friends begin prayers for the 12 schoolboys and their coach
Young family members point to their loved ones as they anxiously wait for them to be rescued from the depths of the cave
A little girl looked deep in thought as the local community gathered to pray for the boys at the Mesai Grace Church in Chiang Rai
Relatives and friends came together to pray out loud for their loved ones who’ve been stuck underground for two weeks
Family members cook for rescue workers near Tham Luang cave complex as the divers enter the tunnels in a dangerous bid to rescue the boys
Family members come out from Tham Luang cave complex. One woman was seen talking on the phone as she was ushered out by rescue workers
Family members come out from Tham Luang cave complex. They were seen accompanied by nurses and emergency workers
A father clutched his chest and closed his eyes as he prayed for his missing boy to make it home safe
Family members were allowed on site as preparations got underway for the rescued boys to appear from the cave system
Family members cook for rescue workers who will save their missing relatives by tomorrow, if all goes to plan
A fleet of ambulances is on standby at the remote forest site and a helicopter landing strip has been hacked out of the dense jungle.
Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-Ocha was expected to arrive tomorrow to oversee the rescue effort and to meet with the families of those trapped, according to The Bangkok Post.
The anguished families of the missing boys have revealed their relief that the rescue mission to free them from the flooded cave has begun.
Relatives of Pornchai Khamluang, Mongkol Boonpiam and Peerapat Sompiangjal have told how they can’t wait to see the missing youngsters – even if it is in a hosopital bed.
‘All of the family hopes that the boys will come out of the cave as quickly as possible,’ Pornchai’s aunt, Jarm Ounsaeng, told MailOnline.
‘Even if the boys have to be taken to hospital, at least we will be able to visit them.’
Jarm spoke as other relatives of the stranded youngsters have revealed how their fraught parents and siblings have been struggling to cope with their disappearance.
And details of the boys’ lives – and how precious they are to their families – have emerged as the world waits for news of their escape.
The parents of Nattawut Thakamsong – who suffers from asthma and is known as ‘TLE’- have already suffered the heartache of losing a child when their first-born, a girl, died of cancer when she was just 10 months old.
Another boy Mongkol Boonpiam is his mother’s only companion, after she separated from his father.
His aunt, Eytan Hongwattana, 48, told MailOnline: ‘Mongkol lives with his mother because his parents have split up.
Sarisa Promjak Sarisa Promjak, 50, (aunt of Prajak Sutham), Jai Janthapoon, 69 (grandfather) and Kiangkham Janthapoon, 66 (grandmother) eagerly wait for Prajak to be rescued
Missing Prajak Sutham, then aged 2, is pictured with his father Sudsakhon Sutham and his mother Ratdao Janthapoon
Football mad Prajak Sutham, aged 14 (left), and at the age of 12 (right) is one of the 12 missing boys and their coach
Ratdao Chantapoon (far left), mother of Prajak Sutham, prays with other mothers during a vigil in the Tham Luang Forest Park
‘During the first days of his disappearance my sister, Namhom Boonpiam, was very unwell. She kept fainting, several times a day. She would not eat or even drink.
‘I live 100km away but I came to look after my sister when she heard that Mongkol was missing.
‘She has up been up at the cave everyday. She only comes home for a few minutes to take a shower and have something to eat.
After the boys were found she has been a bit better. And reading his letter helped too.’
Pornchai’s aunt said his mother Kiang Khamlue and father In Khamluang have been frantic with worry since he disappeared.
Jarm told MailOnline: ‘The whole family are very worried about Pornchai.
Eytan Hongwattana, 48 (aunt of Mongkol Boonpiam) and his uncle Saeng Hongwattana, 38, pose for a picture with Mongkol’s football shirt
Jarm Ounsaeng, 27, (aunt of Pornchai Khamluang) cousin Thanawat Ounsaeng (centre) and sister Pingsorn Thaiyai, 11, anxiously wait as the rescue mission gets underway
‘It was a huge relief when they were finally found.
‘His mother and his little sister Mother Pingsorn Thaiyai, went up to the mountain to wait for him.
‘The little girl refused to go to school because she wanted to hug her brother when he came out.
‘We thought he would be out within five days at the most. But now it has been more than two weeks.
‘After she got the letter from Pornchai my sister [mother] felt a lot better.’
Missing Wild Boars FC football player Peerapat Sompiangjai (left), aged 16, and 14-year-old Panumas Saengdee (right)
Sompong Jaiwong (left), 13, is pictured with a football trophy and 14-year-old Nattawoot Thakamsai poses in his school uniform
Nattawut Thakamsong’s teacher Thongyard Kejorn, who is close to the family, told MailOnline: ‘Before Tie [Nattawut Thakamsong] the family had a little girl who died of cancer.
‘So Tie is their only child and they are devoted to him.
‘Even though he is 14, the father takes him to school and the mother picks him up – always.
‘They have been outside the cave for the past two weeks. They only return home for clean clothes.
‘When I saw them, they just burst into tears.’
The football team and coach have been trapped in the cave for more than two weeks after a squad bonding trek went horribly wrong.
Thousands of rescuers including Thai Navy SEALs and elite British divers have been working around the clock to come up with a plan to bring the exhausted and starved boys home safely.
But gathering clouds thundered down heavy rain for 90 minutes on Saturday night leading authorities to call to begin immediately on Sunday.
‘Now and in the next three or four days, the conditions are perfect (for evacuation) in terms of the water, the weather and the boys’ health,’ Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said.
‘We have to make a clear decision on what we can do.’
Journalists work near Tham Luang cave complex before they were asked to move further away as rescue operations began
They were cleared away from the main site under instruction from the Thai government to give the rescuers more space
Military helicopters are waiting to medically evacuate footballers that have been trapped in the cave and get them to a hospital
Police helicopters and military aircraft are on standby so the boys can be rushed to get medical treatment as soon as they appear
The youngsters will be led out of the tunnels one by one and taken directly to Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital, 57km (35miles) from the cave
Weather forecasts predict sustained thunderstorms lasting through Sunday and Monday, with further stormy weather for the next two weeks.
Police early evacuated the area around the cave mouth in preparation – giving everyone until 9am (3am BST) to leave.
‘Assessing the situation now, it is necessary to evacuate the area for the rescue operation,’ Mae Sai police commander Komsan Sa-ardluan bellowed over a loudspeaker.
‘Those unrelated to the rescue operation, please evacuate the area immediately.’
The frantic four-day deadline marked a dramatic U-turn from Governor Narongsak’s press conference just 12 hours earlier.
Then he said the boys were still learning to dive and were not yet strong enough to make the perilous escape through narrow tunnels that are at one point just 15 inches wide.
Navigating the cave system takes an experienced diver more than five hours and the boys were not back at full strength after suffering exhaustion and starvation before rescuers found them.
Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said the boys were learning to dive but were not strong enough to undertake to long journey through narrow, underwater passages
Speaking outside the Tham Luang caves in northern Thailand, the governor ruled out a rescue attempt overnight on Friday but indicated the situation could change in days to come
‘There is no chance the boys will come out today. it is not suitable. they still cannot dive,’ he said at a long-awaited press conference after midnight on Saturday local time.
However, it appeared not only was the imminent monsoon forcing rescuers’ hands, but the dwindling oxygen supply inside the cave keeping the boys alive.
‘When we’re in a confined space, if the oxygen drops to 12 percent, the human body starts to slow down and people can fall unconscious,’ Governor Narongsak said.
‘There’s also carbon dioxide. If the oxygen levels are down and the carbon dioxide levels are up, then you can get too much carbon dioxide in your blood.’
Levels in the cave have fallen to 15 per cent – down from a healthy level of 21 per cent – due, ironically, to the presence of so many rescuers trying to free the boys.
Rescuers have fed a kilometres-long air pipe into the cave to restore oxygen levels in the chamber where the team are sheltering, accompanied by medics and expert divers.
More than 100 exploratory holes have also been bored – some shallow, but the longest 400 metres deep – into the mountainside in an attempt to open a second evacuation route and avoid forcing the boys into a dangerous dive through submerged tunnels.
When they were first found, the boys were fed the high-energy glucose gel used by elite sportsmen to rapidly boost their energy levels after so long without food.
Although they have been reintroduced to solid food, it is by necessity all cold, and in their letters to their parents the boys dreamed of fried chicken.
The boys and their 25-year-old coach are not ready to be extracted, but authorities are likely to launch a risky rescue attempt in coming days if rain begins catastrophically flooding the caves
Governor Narongsak foreshadowed plans could rapidly change depending on the weather, as ‘a heavy downpour comes down into the caves like a tsunami’.
‘There is no chance the boys will come out today. It is not suitable, they still cannot dive,’ he said at a long-awaited press conference after midnight on Saturday local time.
‘The children are learning how to dive. We’d like minimum risk, but we can’t wait until it rains heavily and worsens the situation.
‘If that happens, we’ll need to reassess. The key thing is the kids’ readiness to dive. If it rains, and the situation is not good, we will try to bring the boys out.’
At its narrowest part, a choke point of just 15 inches, has a sharp upward bend followed by a downward slope.
The boys would have to crawl out of the water swirling with silt in complete darkness guided by divers. Then they must clamber across a rocky peak before descending into the murky waters again.
Officials have long feared the coming torrential rain would catastrophically flood the cave system in Chiang Rai and make rescue impossible.
A huge operation is underway at the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex, where dozens of Thai Navy SEALs and international experts are attempting to find a way to get the boys out
Navigating the cave system takes an experienced diver more than five hours and the boys were not back at full strength after suffering exhaustion and starvation before rescuers found them.
A group of volunteers prepare to leave in search of alternative entry points to the Tham Luang cave area as rescue operation continues for the 12 boys and their football team coach trapped in the cave
Rescue workers rest at the command centre near the Tham Luang cave ready to spring into action if the operation is called
Should the rains further flood the cave, as predicted, the rest of the team could be trapped in the cave for more than four months until waters recede,
However, Governor Narongsak appeared unwilling to let the boys and their coach be stuck for that long, as he laughed when asked if they would be left inside.
He said rescuers ‘need to make the plan that is the best plan’ and were assessing options, they will then test the plan to make sure it will work with a low enough risk.
‘If the risk is minimal, we will try. We are afraid of the weather and the oxygen in the cave. We have to try to set the plan and find which plan is the best,’ he said.
But he appeared to rule out tunneling through the rock to reach them in favour of the boys swimming out in dive gear or being pushed through the tunnel by divers.
‘The boys entered through the front of the cave, they will come out through the front,’ he said.
Governor Narongsak said the boys were still healthy and have practised wearing diving masks and breathing in preparation for the diving possibility.
When asked if he felt positively about the situation, he replied: ‘The world is perfect’.
‘I’m worried about everyone who participates in the rescue operation,’ he added.
Officials have been planning to fit the boys with full-face oxygen masks and extract them two at a time with navy chaperones.
Headcam footage reveals the dark and waterlogged tunnels the Thai boys trapped 800 metres underground will have to pass through to escape
Divers can only get so far before full diving equipment is required as they must swim though completely submerged passages
On Friday, after pumping out 130 million litres, the cave water levels had dropped by enough to enable the boys to pass some sections without going under water. It meant that an 11-hour return journey was apparently been cut to less than six.
Two British divers had yesterday visited the boys again, who were mostly in good condition, although three were now ‘quite weak’ physically.
‘Weaker than the other boys, but not in a serious condition. And they are all mentally strong,’ he said
However, rescue teams are racing against time amid worsening weather and lowered oxygen levels, which may force rescuers to try pulling the boys out before they were fully ready.
‘We can no longer wait for all conditions to be ready, because circumstances are pressuring us,’ naval chief Apakorn Yukongkaew said.
Water was accidentally pumped back into caves by volunteers amid desperate attempts to lower flooding levels in the sprawling underground network, it has emerged
Former Thai Navy SEAL Saman Kunan died after running out of oxygen in the cramped, waterlogged passageways of the Tham Luang caves in northern Thailand
‘At first, we thought the children could stay for a long time, but now things have changed.’
The extreme dangers were brought home on Friday when former Thai navy seal Saman Kunan drowned during the rescue operation’s preparations.
The 38-year-old volunteered to help deliver oxygen tanks though a long underwater tunnel, but got into trouble underwater despite being an expert diver and a super-fit triathlon runner.
His death prompted concerns over how 12 terrified children who cannot even swim would fare on the same hideous journey.
Mr Kunan body was flown to his hometown in Roi Et for a royally-sponsored funeral, with pictures showing military officials transporting his flag-draped coffin.
Kunan died due to a lack of oxygen in the tunnel. He was trying to reach a cavern set up as a command centre 1.2miles inside the cave system when he ran out of air at 2am local time
The body of a diver who died while taking supplies to a trapped Thai soccer team has been repatriated with honours. A Thai Buddhist monk leads military honour guards today as they carry a flag-draped coffin containing the remains of Saman Kunan
One of the British divers who initially found the schoolboys has returned to the UK for medical treatment.
When Harper arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport to fly back to the UK, he received a VIP welcome and escort in Washington DC. He was warmly greeted by several Thai officials including the Minister for Tourism and Sports, Weerasak Kowsurat.
The Minister presented a Certification of Appreciation to Rob Harper on behalf of the Kingdom of Thailand.
The certificate read ‘As recognition of your public DC escort service to the citizens of Thailand in providing assistance in rescuing the thirteen Thai indiviuals from the Tham Luang Cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai province.
Weerasak Kowsurat, the Thai Minister for Minister for Tourism and Sports presented Rob Harper with a very special drawing to thank him for his specialist help
On Tuesday 26 June the British Cave Rescue Council received a request from Thai authorities asking for specialist help. Less than 12 hours later Rob Harper (pictured in the cave) flew out of London Heathrow
He arrived as part of a specialist trio of British divers. Pictured: Rick Stanton, Rob Harper and John Volanthen were the team to initially find the boys
‘Your dedication to duty and professionalism reflects the highest credit upon yourself.’
Rob Harper is an respected caver with over four decade of experience. He has explored and surveyed caves in Somerset, Panama, Peru and Thailand.
In addition he is a Cave Leader for Dan Yr Ogof cave in South Wales. (A Cave Leader has a set of specialist skills in order to safety lead others underground).
His work has been published in ‘Descent’ – the UK cave magazine – and he has voluntarily served the caving community as an officer on the Wessex Cave Club Committee.