Four more boys were brought out Monday from a deep cave in northern Thailand where four others were rescued on Sunday, Thai navy SEALs announced, with a local official saying the plan is to extract the remaining four boys and their soccer coach on Tuesday.
The four boys emerged from Tham Luang Nang Non cave where they had been stranded for over two weeks after being rescued by foreign and Thai divers.
The boys were taken by helicopter to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital in Chiang Rai, capital of the province of the same name where the cave is located.
Rescue operation commander Narongsak Osottanakorn told a news conference that he is very happy to see the four more boys rescued safely.
He said the next operation will be conducted on Tuesday. "I can't say how many people will come out tomorrow. The rescue team sets its own plan," he said.
[Photo supplied by Thai authorities]
Narongsak said the operation on Monday went more smoothly than on Sunday and took two hours less, adding, "We think tomorrow we will do better than today and will succeed 100 percent."
He assured that the remaining four boys and their soccer coach are ready for extraction. "They are OK, nothing to worry."
The day's operation started at 11 a.m. after divers finished reinstalling oxygen tanks and doing rope checks along the exit route that includes flooded narrow passageways.
The rescue team included both divers who participated in Sunday's operation and new divers to replace those exhausted from the previous day's mission, he said.
Narongsak earlier cited favorable factors for successful rescue, including the fact that water levels in the cave remain stable amid the current break in the weather, even as the monsoon season looms.
There was scattered rain in the area of the cave on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. It had been feared that sustained heavy rain could raise water levels inside the cave, greatly hindering the rescue operation.
Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda told reporters that the boys rescued Sunday are in hospital and doing fine but require thorough medical checks. Narongsak said some are well enough to ask for solid food.
In the rescues, two divers are being allocated for each boy to guide them through the exit route, one in front and one behind.
Authorities have not identified the eight rescued so far.
The 12 boys, ranging in age between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach, entered the cave on June 23 after soccer practice and were subsequently trapped by rising flood waters.
Amid a frantic search effort by hundreds of rescuers and support personnel, divers found the group sheltering on a dry patch about 4 kilometers from the entrance of the cave on July 2.
The rescue of the first four boys had brought joy and relief to the families and friends of the 13, with one school friend of some of the boys telling media that he is very happy and thanking the rescue team for bringing his friends out.
A relative of one of the 12 boys, speaking to Kyodo News, compared Sunday's rescue to a miracle, adding that she wishes to see the remaining boys and coach get out soon.
Also Monday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha visited the cave for the first time since the extraction operation began.