Complicated rescue: Local government officials said 13 foreign and five Thai divers are taking part in the long and risky operation to free the 12 young soccer players and their 25-year-old coach.
The rescue started at 10 am Thai time and involved 13 worldwide divers and five Thai navy seals, who were described by Governor Narongsak as "an all-star team", reports the Daily Mail.
Thai rescue team members walk inside a cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach have been trapped since June 23, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand.
Monsoon flooding cut off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for nearly 10 days.
"Today is D-day. The boys are ready to face any challenges", rescue chief Narongsak Osotthanakorn told reporters who were cleared from the cave entrance at mid-morning on Sunday. "We have to be 100 percent confident that there is no risk to the boys before we evacuate", provincial governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said.
The rescue effort suffered a disheartening setback Friday with the death of a former Thai navy SEAL diving in the flooded passageways to deliver supplies, as authorities raced against worsening weather and lessening oxygen.
According to rescue authorities, 14-year-old Adul "Dul" Sam-on will be one of the first four kids to come out, while the coach will be the last.
Mental health and medical experts have warned that even if the whole team gets out safely, they are likely to battle weeks, if not months, of mental and physical traumas. Do take good care of yourself.
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"If we can get out, please can you bring me to eat at the pan-fried pork restaurant?" one of the boys wrote in a letter published on the Thai Navy SEALs' Facebook page. "They have not been moved to Chiang Rai hospital yet", Tossathep said.
"The water level may rise to the area where the children are sitting and make the area less than 10sq meters", Narongsak said, citing estimates from cave divers and experts.
Mr Chongklai Worapongsathorn, deputy director-general of the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, said many holes have been drilled and many teams have been sent out to look for more, but so far, none of them can lead to where the boys are.
"To all the parents, all the kids are still fine. Night loves you all", wrote Night, in the Thai manner of referring to one's self in the third person.
The group have so far received training in how to breathe through scuba masks but the challenging conditions within the cave make the rescue mission considerably more risky.
The 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach will be accompanied by divers and will have to navigate tight passageways filled with muddy water as part of their rescue mission. "We want to evacuate all 13 people as soon as possible but I don't want to specify any day and date", said Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (above, at right). As water levels rise in the cave, the distance the boys would have to dive increases.
Sources in the diving team and the Thai navy confirmed the first two boys were freed late on Sunday afternoon and were airlifted to Chiang Rai city, about 50 miles away.
"Thank you for all the moral support and I apologize to the parents". There have been oxygen tanks left along the route to help them complete the long journey.