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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 July 2018

Thai cave rescue: day one as it happened, mission paused after four rescued

The children will be taken to hospital by helicopter where they will receive urgent medical care

  • Rescue teams began the operation to extract 12 Thai footballers and their coach from a cave in northern Thailand at 10am local time (7am UAE time)
  • The operation may take two to four days to extract the entire group, but the first rescues took place quicker than expected
  • Four boys were rescued by divers from the cave. They were immediately taken to hospital

Read more: Everything we know about the Thai cave rescue | Editorial: Global support for Thai boys is inspiring

This blog is now closed. Read live updates from the second day.

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All times are local to the UAE.

18:05 Healthiest taken out first, rescue operation paused, four rescued

The Thai official heading up the rescue operation said the healthiest boys have been taken out first.

The mission leader also said the operation is going better than expected, but has now paused.

The next phase of the operation will start in 10-20 hours, when teams will continue the evacuation.

The official also confirmed that only four boys had been rescued. Previous reports from news agencies said six boys had been taken to safety.

The boys are being taken out two at a time. Once rescued, the children are transferred by ambulance and then by helicopter to a hospital in Chiang Rai.

About 90 divers, 50 of whom are foreign and 40 Thai, are involved in the operation, the official said.

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17:15 US President Trump tweets support

US President Trump tweets his support for the government of Thailand.

The US committed 30 military operatives to the rescue mission early on, and has continued to support the efforts.

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16:48 Two more boys leave the cave - total now six

Six boys have now left the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand, a senior member of the rescue team tells Reuters.

There are six more boys still left in the cave, as well as their coach.

This report was later revised - at 18:30 only four boys had been rescued.

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16:30 Boys assessed for mental and physical fitness

Divers worked with medics to assess the boys' fitness before deciding who would be taken out first.

Chiang Rai Acting Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said "divers will work with medics in the cave to assess the boys' health before determining who will come out first".

"They cannot decide how many of them will be able to come out for the first operation," he said.

"Based on the complexity and difficulty of the cave environment it is unknown how long it might take and how many children would exit the cave."

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16:15 Two more boys to walk out of the cave

Four boys have reached the rescue team's camp in Chamber 3 and will walk out of the cave, a local official has told AFP.

Two boys are already reported to have left the Tham Luang cave, and two more are reported to have reached the operating base inside the complex.

There are now eight boys left in the cavity, as well as their coach.

An ambulance carrying one of the boys rescued from the cave heads towards the hospital. Getty Images
An ambulance carrying one of the boys rescued from the cave heads towards the hospital. Getty Images

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15:40 Two boys have emerged from the cave - reports

The first two boys from the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand have been rescued, a local official tells Reuters.

The first boy is said to have emerged at 14:37, and the second at 15:50, according to Thai news outlet Khaosod.

Two ambulances were seen leaving the caves shortly after news of the rescued boys emerged.

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14:50 Route to the hospital cleared

Thai police are clearing the route from the Tham Luang caves to the hospital.

Video from Thai PBS News shows police using a loudspeaker to tell citizens to clear the route along the road leading to Chaingrai Prachanukroh Hospital, where the "Wild Boar" team and their coach will be taken once each is rescued.

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12:20 Thai government releases details about the mission

In a post on his Facebook page, General Prayut Chan-o-cha releases details about the rescue operation.

A graphic written in Thai explains that the boys will be extracted with full face masks, two divers to each boy. When the groups hit a narrow part of the caves they will release the tanks from the boy's back and slowly guide the boys and the tanks through.

Once the group reach Chamber 3, they will walk to the mouth of the cave.

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11:20 T-Junction 'crisis' point

Officials have highlighted a T-junction called Sam Yak, towards the end of the cave network as the main "crisis" point for the boys.

The narrow passage in pitch black will be the trickiest element of the journey for the "Wild Boars" team.

"The biggest crisis spot for diving is on the left from the T-Junction," said Narongsak Osottanakorn, the rescue mission chief.

"There is a tunnel that has a passageway going up and coming down narrowly and you have to turn a bit and it's very small."

After that point the tunnel widens, waters subside, and walking is possible. The boys will have also reached the forward operating base of the cave.

Other risks to the boys include their diving and swimming ability, endurance and strength, poor visibility causing panic, and impending bad weather.

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Roy Cooper / The National
Roy Cooper / The National

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10:30 Thai Navy Seals post to Facebook

On a post on Facebook, the Thai Navy Seals write, "we, the Thai team and the international team will bring the Wild Boars home".

Rescue teams have been working for 15 days to bring the youth football team home.

Steve George, a senior producer at CNN International, tweeted a picture of exhausted rescue workers shortly after the rescue mission began.

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09:00 Rescue could take two to four days

A Thai official says the rescue of the "Wild Boar" team could take two to four days, depending on the conditions of the cave.

According to Maj Gen Chalongchai Chaiyakam, the 13 "will continuously come out in approximately two to four days, which all may change depending on weather and water conditions".

The first boy is expected by 6pm local time, 11 hours after the operation began.

Rescue teams will be careful not to rush the boys out of the cave. If the boys panic or become exhausted while diving it could cause problems and make breathing very hard. Two divers will accompany each boy as they are gradually extracted.

Over the past week, the teams have been lining the walls of caves not submerged in water with oxygen tanks. This will allow the boys to replenish their air supply.

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07:00 'Today is the D-Day'

The mission to rescue the "Wild Boar" football team from the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand has begun, the head of the mission said.

"Today is the D-Day. The boys are ready to face any challenges," Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters near Tham Luang cave, where the 12 boys and their coach have been trapped for more than two weeks.

Mr Osottanakorn said rescue teams have been practising to retrieve the boys for three to four days, adding that 13 foreign divers, five Thai divers, five Navy Seals are taking part in the operation.

The mission chief said the first boy was expected to be brought out of the cave by 9pm, approximately 11 hours after the operation started.

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05:30 International media cleared as rescue appears imminent

Thai authorities told media and non-essential personnel to leave a camp site near the entrance to the Tham Luang cave.

"Everyone who is not involved with the operations has to get out of the area immediately," police announced via loudspeaker at the site.

"From the situation assessment, we need to use the area to help victims."

They gave a deadline of 9am to clear out, setting off a frenzy of moving and packing.

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July 7 14:00 Conditions 'perfect'

Narongsak Osottanakorn, the chief of the rescue operation, told reporters that conditions are perfect for an evacuation.

"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," the chief said.

The rescue team conceded it was a race against time to extract the boys. With heavy rains due to undo the round-the-clock water drainage the team has been carrying out, the ledge where the boys are sitting could be reduced to less than 10 square metres.

Oxygen levels are also in danger of lowering to dangerous levels.

"When we're in a confined space if the oxygen drops to 12 per cent the human body starts to slow down and people can fall unconscious," 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."

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The story so far

On June 23 the Moo Pa (Wild Boars) academy team finished football practice and took their bikes to explore a cave in the forests of northern Thailand.

The 12 boys, aged between 11 and 16, were accompanied by their assistant coach.

However, Thailand's annual monsoon rains fell, and the entrance to the cave flooded.

Unfortunately, the boys could not swim to safety, so they retreated further into the cave, travelling between two and three kilometres before settling on a ledge surrounded by water.

An alert was raised after the boys did not return home, and rescuers found the group's bikes, boots, and belongings at the entrance of the cave.

Police, park rangers, and the Thai army scoured the area for an alternative entrance. Rescue teams accumulated from around the world, and the international media interest grew.

On July 2, the boys finally saw the light — a torch belonging to two divers from the British Cave Rescue Council, John Volanthen and Richard Stanton.

"How many of you?" Mr Volanthen asked. "Thirteen? Brilliant."

The boys had been found.

Since that moment, Thai Navy Seals have been prepping the boys to be comfortable enough with breathing apparatus to make a guided dive out of the cave. They have been helping the boys to build their strength with medical attention and high-calorie gels.

Meanwhile, the heads of the rescue operation have been discussing alternative options including drilling into the cave, and draining the water.

Time, however, is against the operation. Heavy rains are due to fall on July 8, and the oxygen levels inside the cave where the boys are trapped are depleting quickly.

On July 6 a Thai Navy Seal died ferrying oxygen tanks to the boys.

The international community has come to the aid of the boys. The boys were discovered by British divers, and 13 international divers will assist in the extraction.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk sent a team from SpaceX and The Boring Company, who specialise in digging underground tunnels, to assist the rescue team. Mr Musk tweeted over the weekend the feedback he had from his experts.

As the operation began this morning, Mr Musk reiterated his support for the international rescue teams, saying the extraction was the right decision given the impending monsoon rain.