Operation to rescue stranded Thai football team from flooded cave begins

Boys trapped in Thai cave are'not ready for underwater escape

Anxious that heavy monsoon rain could soon make the job even more hard, Thai officials said Saturday that they may need to quickly rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from a partially flooded cave by helping them make risky dives to safety.

Extracting the whole group could take three to four days and depended on the weather, an army commander involved in the mission said.

Officials continued to explore other options to extract the team while the rescue effort was underway.

He said 13 foreign divers and five Thai navy SEALs were taking part in the key leg of the rescue: taking the boys from where they have been sheltering and through dark, tight and twisting passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents.

The boys, 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach went exploring in the cave after a soccer game two weeks ago, when monsoon flooding cut off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for nearly 10 days.

The Thai Government said Mr Musk's team could help the rescue operation with location tracking, water pumping or battery power.

The plight of the boys and their coach has riveted Thailand and much of the world - from the heart-sinking news that they were missing to the first flickering video of the huddle of anxious yet smiling boys when they were found 10 days later by a pair of British divers.

However experienced cave rescue experts consider the underwater rescue a last resort, especially because the boys are not trained in diving.

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Rescuers have suggested that it may take up to two days for the rescue to be completed, with each boy being brought out individually.

Kobchai Boonyaorana, deputy director-general of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department of the Interior Ministry, told reporters today that the water level in the cave had continued to recede, and that rainfall was less than expected.

A mammoth response operation - including a medical unit, ambulance and helicopter for every boy - is waiting outside the cave for the team to emerge.

"We expect that if there is no unusual condition ... the four boys, one coach, the doctor, and three Seals who have been with the boys since the first day will come out today", he told a news conference to loud cheering. The route is complicated by twists and turns in narrow flooded passages.

Authorities have not ruled out laying an oxygen line and leaving the boys inside for months until monsoon rains clear if their efforts over the next few days fail. "Extremely robust", Musk tweeted, adding that it would take eight hours to construct and 17 hours to transport to Thailand.

The boys see their situation in less grandiose terms, according to their notes home, which were made public Saturday. "I love you", read one of the letters. "I miss everyone. Grandpa, Uncle, Mom, Dad and siblings, I love you all. Although, don't forget to set up my birthday party".

Meanwhile the 25-year-old coach Ekkapol Chantawong, the only adult to accompany the boys into the cave, sent his "apologies" to their parents. And I promise I will take care of the kids as best as I can. Shortly before 8pm (2pm BST) Thai Navy Seals reported on their official Facebook page that the four had been rescued. "I want to say thanks for all the support and I want to apologize to the parents", he wrote.

"I love you, mum, dad and brother".

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