By Jintamas Saksornchai and Todd Ruiz
CHIANG RAI — Four boys have now been rescued from the flooded Luang cave Sunday evening, but one was said to need close medical attention.
In a triumph for an uncertain mission fraught with danger, initial reports said the first two children walked out on their own feet at 5:40pm and 5:50pm after 16 days trapped in the dark and flooded cave complex.
Read our coverage of the 16-day Luang cave rescue effort
A third and fourth boy were brought out not long after, but one was said to be “closely monitored.” As of 7:55pm, that child had yet to be evacuated.
The first boy to exit the cave was 13-year-old Mongkol Boonpiam.
A helicopter was seen departing the site at 7:09pm. There were also reports the fifth and sixth boys have almost exited the cave.
The navy SEALs, which spearheads the operation, confirmed in an online statement at about 7:50pm that three boys were brought out.
They were brought out by professional divers, but no details of the circumstances are yet available.
Helicopters and 13 ambulances were standing by for the team to be taken to the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital. Three ambulances were seen entering the facility at about 7:30pm.
The plan as rehearsed has been to transport them by ambulance to a hospital in Chiang Rai City 60 kilometers away. Any found in critical condition would be flown by helicopter to the same hospital.
Narongsak Osottanakorn, the former Chiang Rai governor and rescue operation chief, announced in the morning that the boys would be brought out in pairs, with two divers accompanying each one of them. He insisted that all were 100 percent ready, both physically and mentally.
The families had also given green light to the extraction plan, he said.
Going out the way they came in was a dangerous option of last resort. But fear they would drown or suffocate were they to remain any longer forced the hard choice.
Additional reporting Pravit Rojanaphruk