(CBS News) — Four more members of a youth soccer team were pulled from a flooded cave in a second round of rescue operations in Thailand on Monday. The 12 boys and their coach were trapped in the cave for two weeks.
Four were rescued over the weekend. On Monday, four more were rushed to a hospital.
The new stage started around 11 a.m. local time (midnight ET), and operations halted at night, a source confirmed to CBS News. Four boys and their coach remained inside the cave.
The boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach became stranded when they went exploring inside after a practice game. Monsoon flooding blocked off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for almost 10 days.
The four who were rescued previously were taken to a hospital in Chiang Rai for evaluation. Two divers were assigned to each child to help them navigate the dangerous, narrow passageways. It could take two to four days complete the mission, officials said.
On Friday, the death of a former Thai navy SEAL underscored the risks. The diver, the first fatality of the rescue effort, was working in a volunteer capacity and died on a mission to place oxygen canisters along the route.
Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn said Saturday that mild weather and falling water levels in recent days had created the “perfect” conditions for an underwater evacuation. Those conditions won’t last if the rain resumes, he said.
Heavy rain started falling as soon as the four were removed from the cave. Narongsak said experts told him the new rain could shrink the unflooded space where the boys are sheltering to 108 square feet.
Strongest boys being taken out of cave first
Rescuers are taking the strongest boys out of the flooded cave first, according to Chiang Rai province acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, who is heading the rescue mission.
CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reports that may seem counterintuitive, but the reasoning for that was that officials want the boys who have the best chance of surviving to get through the escape route first.
Also, rescuers want to give divers the chance to go through the route several times before they get to the boys who may be weaker.
When they’re being extracted from the cave, each of the boys wears a dive mask as they enter the murky water. The children can barely see anything in front of them.
They are led by a diver who is carrying their oxygen tank and guided by a rope. Another diver follows them from behind.
This graphic illustrates the escape route that rescuers are taking to free 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. (credit: CBS)
The entire journey covers about two-and-a-half miles through both deep water and steep climbs.
The biggest concern is a “pinch point” in the cave that is just 15 inches across.
In that area, the boys have to separate from the divers in order to fit through and reach a small patch of dry land before going back down into the water.
This graphic illustrates a so-called “pinch point” in the scape route for 12 boys and their soccer coach in a flooded cave in Thailand. (credit: CBS)
Rescued Thai boys are “safe and conscious,” official says
The official heading the rescue operation said the four boys brought out of the cave on Monday were “safe and conscious” and in a hospital.
Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn also told a news conference that Monday’s operation took less time than Sunday’s because of the experience accumulated and because more people were involved.
Narongsak said he’s not sure if the five people remaining in the cave will be extracted in one or more operations.
He said Thailand’s prime minister, who visited the cave site Monday, has gone to visit all eight boys in the hospital.
“Today they are really catching a break from the weather”
The weather in Chiang Rai, Thailand, where the boys and their coach are trapped in a cave, is “actually quite dry,” said CBS News foreign correspondent Ben Tracy. “Today they are really catching a break from the weather” of the rainy season, Tracy said.
Since it is rainy season, you can expect almost everyday you will get some type of rain. But in the past few days, they have avoided the heavy downpours that can flood the cave. There was some rain on Sunday, which caused some water to go into the cave, but officials were able to pump an almost equal amount of water out.
At some point, there was talk of leaving of the boys in the cave throughout the rainy season, Tracy said. But then oxygen started running low in the cave, and officials also worried the little piece of real estate the boys and their coach have could be lost.
The current rescue operation is not, Tracy said, “the preferred option.” But officials decided “the risk of leaving them there was greater.”
The rescued boys will be in quarantine for at least 24 hours, Tracy reports. Tracy also noted that the glimpse we’ve seen of the trapped boys showed they appeared to be in good spirits.
Second phase of cave rescue underway, officials say
Divers have gone in for the second rescue attempt, Thai officials said. The second operation started at 11 a.m. local time Monday (midnight ET). It takes several hours.
Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osattanakorn said the second phase began at 11 a.m. and authorities “hope to hear good news in the next few hours.” Nine people remain trapped in the cave.
Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda had said early Monday that the same divers who took part in Sunday’s rescue would return to extricate the others as they know the cave conditions and what to do. He had said fresh air tanks needed to be laid along the underwater route.
Officials say rescued boys are hungry but in good health
Thai authorities said the four boys rescued from the cave are hungry but in good health.
The chief the rescue mission said they are being kept apart from relatives because of infection concerns, Reuters reports. The rescued boys are in quarantine, BBC News reports.
How will the kids’ mental health be affected?
Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, said there is a threat of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for the boys and their coach, but he said he is hopeful it won’t be an issue for a majority of the kids.
Adesman said that PTSD is an issue for protracted trauma, and he’s optimistic the worst is behind the boys trapped in the cave.
“There’s a likelihood of resilience, assuming everyone comes out, there’s no fatalities, I think the worst is behind them,” Adesman said.
Adesman said the parents and mental health professionals will need to be on the lookout for the symptons of PTSD, including nightmares, flashbacks, concentration issues and impulsive or aggressive behavior.
If the boys do show signs of PTSD, Adesman said the best treatment available would be form of psychotherapy called trauma focused behavioral therapy. This would involve a psychologist, and likely other mental health professionals, working with the teens to revisit some of the trauma, talking about it through various stages of therapy and becoming more capable of coping with the emotional trauma of what occurred.
Rescue to resume Monday, Washington Post reporter says
The divers are expected to go back into the cave Monday, said Washington Post reporter Shibani Mahtani, who is in Mae Sai. She said the supplies need to be restocked, mainly the oxygen tanks since the government said they had depleted their oxygen tanks.
The rescuers need to also check on the boys who are still there and make sure they are strong enough to be rescued.
The boys and the coach are coming out through a buddy system, and she said she has heard some “pretty dramatic scenes of the rescue.”
For the boys in the region, soccer is “really a way of life.”
As for the coach who has been trapped with the boys, Mahtani said she has learned he has a “tragic” story. He was orphaned after a disease spread through his town, killing his parents and his younger brother. He moved to a monastery, but has moved back to the region to care for an ailing grandmother.
“It does seem he has dedicated a lot of himself to the team,” Mahtani said.
Mahtani said the community where boys are from is “definitely a small town … not a rich town.” She said a lot of people in the region are refugees, and move back and forth between Thailand and Myanmar.
“It’s an extremely close-knit community,” she said. “For sure, this is the biggest thing that has happened here, maybe in forever.”
19 Australian personnel involved in rescue, foreign minister says
Australia’s foreign minister says 19 Australian personnel are involved in the Thailand cave rescue operation including a doctor who’s played an essential part in assessing which boys can leave and in what order.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters in Australia that anesthetist and experienced cave diver Richard Harris is working with the Thai medical team inside the cave “to make the decisions about the order in which the boys were to be extracted.”
Crews will have to replenish air tanks along the route before rescuing the others.
Thai officials meeting to discuss next phase
Thailand’s interior minister says the same divers who took part in Sunday’s rescue of four boys trapped in a flooded cave will also conduct the next operation as they know the cave conditions and what to do.
In comments released by the government, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said officials were meeting Monday morning about the next stage of the operation and how to extract the remaining nine people from the cave in the country’s north.
Anupong said divers need to place more air canisters along the underwater route to where the boys and their coach have been trapped since June 23. He said that process can take several hours. He said the boys rescued Sunday are strong and safe but need to undergo detailed medical checks.
“Everyone is praying” in Thailand for trapped boys
CBS News correspondent Anna Werner reports from northern Thailand that “everyone is praying” from the boys trapped in a cave for more than two weeks.
“I think there is a sort of community spirity of everyone coming together,” Werner said.
Werner said that when she told people she is a reporter on the story, “immediately you have their attention, because everyone is so focused on this story.”
A rice farmer told The New York Times that she already prepared her soil for the season, but when she returned from volunteering to help the boys, her fields had been flooded with water from the cave. She said she is not concerned about that, because the boys were found alive.
“I am more than willing to have my rice fields flooded as long as the children are safe,” she told the Times. “The boys are like my children.”
Meteorologist: If heavy rains start, could bring water currents
Meteorologist Craig Setzer from CBS Miami tells CBSN that the major concern from a weather perspective is that if area is faced with heavy rains, there could be water new currents in the cave
“Anyone who knows scuba diving knows how incredibly strong even a little bit of current can be,” Setzer said. “It quickly exhausts you.”
Setzer noted that since it is the rainy season in Thailand, rescuers had to take advantage of the open window, since it’s more likely to be raining on any given day.
There were cloudy skies in Chiang Rai Monday, after a night in which heavy monsoon rains lashed the mountainous region for several hours. It was not immediately clear Monday how the overnight rains had impacted water levels inside the flooded cave.
Officials have said storms forecast for Chiang Rai province in Thailand’s far north had factored into their decision to go ahead with a complicated and dangerous plan to have the boys and their coach dive out of the cave.
Thai PM expected in Chiang Rai Monday night
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is expected to come Monday night to Chiang Rai, where nine people remained trapped in a cave.
Prayuth was the leader of a miliatry junta that seized power in 2014. He visited with relatives and rescue officials last week, a move that was criticized by some as opportunistic as his governmentfaced pro-democracy protests in the capital Bangkok in recent months, Reuters reports.
Thai media reports coach could be one of those rescued
Thai media reported Monday that the 25-year-old soccer coach could be among those who were rescued, CBS News foreign correspondent Ben Tracy reports. Tracy said that while that may seem odd, it’s been reported for days that the coach was actually in the worst shape of those trapped in the cave, since he had been giving the boys all the food and water he had on him.
One of the four people rescued was airlifted to a hospital, the rest were taken by ambulance. They will be evaulated at the hospital for the next 3-5 days.
Ex-U.S. Navy SEAL explains why so many divers are involved
Dave Sear, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, joined CBSN to explain why there are 90 divers involved in the rescue mission and what kind of assistance the U.S. can offer Thailand officials. Fifty of the rescuers are from Thailand and 40 others are from across the world. Sear said some of the divers are likely staging oxygen tanks and fixing lines of rope along the cave.
“A rope will go along the entire cave to guide them so they can find their way out of the cave. They will make sure it is in place. Then you are going to stage oxygen bottles or air bottles, depending on what they are using, along that route so that they can switch out as they go. They will have bottles there so they can refresh them, and put new bottles on. The other divers will get them out and replace them,” Sear said.
Sear said the U.S. will likely offer planning and logistic experience in terms of coordinating equipment needed for the mission.”We have some of the best divers in the world and, we can hook them up with internet, Skype, mobile stations and power sources,” he said.
“You can’t make a horror movie that would even compare”
Anmar Mirza, national coordinator of the National Cave Rescue Mission, says the complexity of the rescue is off the charts.
“This is the most scary situation that a person could go through, said Anmar Mirza, national coordinator of the National Cave Rescue Mission. “You can’t make a horror movie that would even compare… I’ve been involved in cave rescues for 30 years and I cannot even think of one that is this complicated.”
“The trust factor between the children and diver makes it — it’s probably 90 percent of what gets them out of the cave,” Mirza said.
An international team has taken shifts bringing them food, medical supplies and comforting letters from their parents. Their soccer coach even taught them to meditate to stay calm.
“The good news is that the first phase was successful, so they had an opportunity to show it works,” Mirza said. “It’s still dangerous but it’s much better odds for the remaining kids to come out now because of those initial ones.”
Challenging rescue: “Almost a perfect storm”
Edd Sorenson, Safety Officer for National Speleological Society-Cave Diving Section, told CBSN the challenges rescuers face. Chief among them: The water, especially for kids who don’t swim, the lack of experience with diving, and zero visibility.
Communication about planning is an issue, given the international scope of the rescue effort. And that’s before the actual rescue attempt. “Communication in the water is extremely difficult,” said Sorenson. “That’s one of the things we teach in cave diving. There’s no talking. So everything has to be done, usually by hand signals. But in zero visibility, it’s has to be touch contact.”
The need to keep calm is also crucial. “That’s one of the biggest issues with a lot of divers in cave training is being able to handle stressful situations. That’s why in cave diving, you can’t even start your very first entry-level cavern until you’re at least 18 years of age.”
Sorenson also described the unique conditions that make cave diving so difficult. “Every cave is different. They are not just a tunnel to go through. It’s fallen down boulder piles. There’s hazards beyond hazards. And when you’re in zero visibility, you have to follow that line. You let go of that line, you may never get out.”