Mae Sai: Divers on July 9 rescued four more boys from a flooded cave in northern Thailand, on the second day of a complex operation.
Now, four other teenage football players and their coach remain inside, the Thai Navy Seals, who led the rescue operations, have confirmed.
The rescue operation has managed to extricate eight boys in total so far.
The group was trapped in the cave on June 23 after heavy rains caused flooding, and was found alive last week by divers.
While Thai officials remained tight-lipped about the rescue operation on July 9, four ambulances left the area around the flooded cave. The ambulances were seen arriving at the hospital in the nearby town of Chiang Rai.
Four boys were brought out safely on July 8, but the mission was paused overnight for air tanks to be replaced.
Rescuers decided to go ahead with the operation to free the group because of fears that waters would rise again.
The rescue is complicated by sections in the cave involving diving – sometimes in a very confined space – and climbing.
Rescue mission chief Narongsak Osottanakorn said the operation had resumed at 11:00 local time (04:00 GMT) on July 9 and would conclude at 21:00.
The names of the rescued boys have not been released out of respect for the families whose sons were still inside, and they have not been reunited with their own families, the mission chief said.
He said physical contact with loved ones would be avoided until a risk of infection had passed, though contact through glass or at a distance might be allowed.
Narongsak allayed concerns that recent heavy rain might have raised water levels, saying conditions were “as good as yesterday”.
Rescuers took advantage of a break in the rain on July 8 to launch the mission earlier than some expected.
The first stage of the mission ran “smoothly” and the rescued boys were in “good health”, according to the Thai authorities.
A team of 90 expert divers – 40 from Thailand and 50 from overseas – has been working in the cave system.
They have been guiding the boys through darkness and submerged passageways towards the mouth of the Tham Luang cave system.
Getting to and from where the boys are has been an exhausting round trip, even for the experienced divers.
The process includes a mixture of walking, wading, climbing and diving along guide ropes already in place.
Wearing full-face masks, which are easier for novice divers than traditional respirators, each boy is being accompanied by two divers, who also carry his air supply.
The toughest part is about halfway out at a section named “T-Junction,” which is so tight the divers have to take off their air tanks to get through.
Beyond that a cavern – called Chamber 3 – has been turned into a forward base for the divers.
There the boys can rest before making the last, easier walk out to the entrance. They are then taken to hospital in Chiang Rai.
In an indication of how dangerous the journey can be, a former Thai navy diver died in the caves on July 6. Saman Gunan was returning from a mission to provide the group with air tanks when he ran out of oxygen.
He lost consciousness and could not be revived. His colleagues said they would “not let the sacrifice of our friend go to waste.”
Some details have emerged of members of the team and their coach.
Captain Duganpet Promtep, 13, is described as a motivator and highly respected by his teammates. He had apparently been scouted by several Thai professional clubs.
Myanmar-born Adul Sam-on, 14, speaks several languages, and was the only team member to be able to communicate with British divers when they were first discovered.
It was 17-year-old Peerapat Sompiangjai’s birthday when the group became trapped in the cave. The snacks the boys brought with them to celebrate are likely to have helped them survive their ordeal.
Assistant coach Ekapol Chantawong, 25, was said to be the weakest of the group when they were found, as he reportedly refused to eat any of the food and gave it instead to the boys.
The boys were found inside the cave by British rescue divers a week ago, about 4 km from the cave mouth.
Aged between 11 and 17, they belong to a football club called the Wild Boars, and became trapped during an excursion with their coach.
It took nine days to find them in the underground network’s dark depths.
Officials had originally thought the group might have to stay where they were until the rainy season ended – and that could have meant months underground.
But with the rainy season just beginning, it has become clear that the flooding which originally trapped the boys will only get worse in the coming days.
Rescuers have been desperately pumping water out of the cave, and Narongsak said that water levels inside were at their lowest levels so far.