Thailand cave rescue: Remaining boys and coach safely removed

The third phase of the high-risk rescue operation for the boys and their coach trapped in a cave in Thailand played out quickly on Tuesday. Hours after Thai officials confirmed that 19 divers had entered the cave complex in Chiang Rai province to extract the remaining four children and their assistant coach, several of them were brought out on stretchers.

Four boys were rescued Sunday and an additional four emerged on Monday.

The boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old assistant coach became stranded when they went exploring inside after a practice game. Monsoon flooding blocked their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for almost 10 days.

Rescuers have been taking the strongest boys out first. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the reasoning for that was that officials wanted the boys who have the best chance of surviving to get through the escape route first.

The jubilant news came more than two weeks after the 25-year-old coach and his team went missing in the dark and dank Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand.

The massive search-and-rescue operation started in earnest on Sunday, when the first four boys were extracted from the subterranean maze. In just three days, international dive teams managed to get all 13 out of the cave as they raced against astronomical odds and a pending monsoon rainstorm that threatened to swamp the cave again.

After replenishing oxygen in the cave and giving divers time to rest, the final push in rescue effort began at 10 a.m. local time Tuesday. As with the previous rescue efforts, 19 divers entered the cave, with two divers escorting each of the boys out of the labyrinth with tethers.

"If everything goes to plan, all will come out today," an official said at a Tuesday midday press conference.

Just hours later, that statement proved true when the divers emerged from the cave with the first boy about 4 p.m. local time. About two hours later, all of the others were rescued.

Chiang Rai Province Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said Tuesday that the first rescue mission took 11 hours to take to bring the first four boys. It took nine hours to take out the next group of boys on Monday and about the same amount of time to complete the operation on Tuesday.

In addition to the coach and four boys, the doctor and three SEALs who have remained in the chamber with the boys were expected to emerge from the cave shortly after.

The last four boys rescued from the cave range in age from 12 to 14.

The miraculous venture was fraught with danger and uncertainty from the start, as rescuers and volunteers from around the world flocked to the mouth of the cave to brainstorm on a plan to bring the boys and coach out safely once they were located on July 2.

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