An eighth boy has been rescued from the cave in northern Thailand where their football team and coach have been trapped for over two weeks, on the second day of a daring series of rescues that has gripped the country.
Sources at the site said the fifth boy emerged before 5pm local time and was leaving the entrance. Minutes later, an ambulance passed the media centre a few kilometres from the cave, followed by a helicopter passing overhead a short time later.
About 6pm a sixth boy was stretchered from the cave and was being treated in a field hospital, a source said.
An hour later a seventh had emerged with an eighth following soon after.
Divers at the site told the Guardian on Monday morning they were preparing to re-enter the cave where they spent more than eight hours on Sunday guiding four of the 12 trapped boys to freedom.
Officials later confirmed the divers had entered Tham Luang Nang Non cave at about 11am local time (5am BST). “At 11am we sent the second team,” said Narongsak Osatanakorn, the head of the joint command centre coordinating the operation.
He said the conditions that had triggered Sunday’s operation – declining water levels in the cave, the readiness of rescuers and the physical and mental health of the stranded boys – were the same on Monday morning and the rescue had commenced five hours’ earlier than expected.
“The factors are as good as yesterday [and] the rescue team is the same team with a few replacements for those exhausted,” he said.
The first boy would emerge between 7.30pm and 8.30pm local time, Osatanakorn said. Asked which boys would be coming he said: “The perfect ones, the most ready ones.”
An official from Thailand’s forestry department said water levels were still declining in the cave thanks to thousands of pumps operating inside and had not been substantially affected by the intermittent rain of the past 48 hours. “The water level is not worrisome,” he said.
Authorities declined to say how many boys would be removed on Monday. “Maybe after,” he said.
The Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said in a TV interview on Monday morning she believed the boys would be brought out in groups of four. This would mean at least two more operations.
The boys who were rescued on Sunday were strong and safe but needed to undergo detailed medical checks, interior minister Anupong Paojinda had said earlier on Monday.
“This morning they complained that they were hungry and they asked for khao pad kraprow [basii chicken with rice],” Osatanakorn said.
The freed children are yet to meet their parents, who late on Sunday night were yet to be told which of their sons had been evacuated.
Doctors quoted by Thai media have said the delay is to manage the mental health of the parents whose children are still inside the cave, as well as to ensure the boys can be tested for any diseases they might have picked up inside its dank, flooded interior.
Authorities said on Monday a medical team was assessing whether to reunite the boys with their parents soon.
“The medical team is considering whether to let closest relative visit them,” Osatanakorn said. “It could be a visit through transparent glass rooms. We are discussing this with doctors at the hospital.”
The freed boys would not yet be officially named due to “doctor-patient confidentiality”, he added.
News of the release of the first four children on Sunday was greeted with elation in Thailand but rescuers say there are still significant risks with a majority of the boys still to undertake the risky 3.2km (2 mile) journey through the jagged, narrow and muddy cave.
Preparations are also under way to manage the mental health of the boys once they are all freed. Students and teachers at Maesaiprasitsart school, attended by many of the children, have been given instructions to avoid “talk that hurts [the boys’] feelings”, said teacher Thongyaud Kejorn.
The boys will not have to sit an exam scheduled for next week, he added. “They will not have to follow the normal schedules.”
Kittichok Kankeaw, a teammate of Nattawut Takamsai, one of the trapped boys, said he would try to assist his friend to catch up at school. “I can help him with his homework,” he said.
Additional reporting by Jacob Goldberg and Veena Thoopkrajae
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