Thailand rescue: Divers start mission to free boys trapped in cave

Updated 8:48 AM EDT, Sun July 8, 2018
CNN
Now playing
02:46
Thai cave rescue operations underway
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 18:  Twelve boys and their coach from the "Wild Boars" soccer team arrive for a press conference for the first time since they were rescued from a cave in northern Thailand last week, on July 18, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. The 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were discharged early from Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital after a speedy recovery and thanked those involved in their rescue. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
Linh Pham/Getty Images
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 18: Twelve boys and their coach from the "Wild Boars" soccer team arrive for a press conference for the first time since they were rescued from a cave in northern Thailand last week, on July 18, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. The 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were discharged early from Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital after a speedy recovery and thanked those involved in their rescue. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:05
Thai cave rescue: 'I told them, don't lose hope.'
Some of the boys who were trapped in a cave in Northern Thailand outside a hospital in Chiang Rai after being discharged.
Rebecca Wright/CNN
Some of the boys who were trapped in a cave in Northern Thailand outside a hospital in Chiang Rai after being discharged.
Now playing
00:58
See moment Thai boys get released from hospital
Thai Navy Seals
Now playing
01:26
Video shows Thai boys' rescue from cave
mckenzie inside thai cave
CNN
mckenzie inside thai cave
Now playing
01:28
CNN reporter goes inside Thai cave
Vern Unsworth, British cave diver
Rebecca Wright/CNN
Vern Unsworth, British cave diver
Now playing
02:49
Elon Musk sued over 'pedo' tweet
Thai boys rescue video
Thai Navy Seals
Thai boys rescue video
Now playing
01:37
See first video of Thai boys' rescue from cave
Thai Royal Navy
Now playing
01:33
12 boys and their coach all out of Thai cave
Adisak Wongsukchan, father of rescued Wild Boars soccer player Akarat Wongsukchan.
Steve George/CNN
Adisak Wongsukchan, father of rescued Wild Boars soccer player Akarat Wongsukchan.
Now playing
00:57
Father of rescued boy: I want to hug him
CNN
Now playing
01:26
CNN reporter speechless by rescue news
Big Kren Media
Now playing
01:16
New video from dramatic cave rescue
Now playing
01:19
Aunt of trapped coach speaks about his life
Facebook/Akkapol Chanthawong
Now playing
01:36
How the Thai cave saga unfolded
virtual cave foreman
CNN
virtual cave foreman
Now playing
01:31
A virtual look inside the cave rescue
Twitter/Elon Musk
Now playing
01:33
Watch: Musk tests small rescue pod
An ambulance leaves the Tham Luang cave area after divers evacuated some of the 12 boys and their coach trapped at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 8, 2018. - Elite divers on July 8 began the extremely dangerous operation to extract 12 boys and their football coach who have been trapped in a flooded cave complex in northern Thailand for more than two weeks, as looming monsoon rains threatened the rescue effort. (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) /         (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images
An ambulance leaves the Tham Luang cave area after divers evacuated some of the 12 boys and their coach trapped at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 8, 2018. - Elite divers on July 8 began the extremely dangerous operation to extract 12 boys and their football coach who have been trapped in a flooded cave complex in northern Thailand for more than two weeks, as looming monsoon rains threatened the rescue effort. (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) / (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:32
Official: Need more oxygen to finish rescue
(CNN) —  

The perilous mission to evacuate 12 boys and their 25-year-old coach trapped deep inside a flooded cave in northern Thailand is under way, Thai authorities announced Sunday.

At 10 a.m. local time, an international contingent of 13 specialist divers and five Thai Navy SEALs descended into the watery network of underground tunnels below the Mae Sai mountains, carrying with them the hopes of an entire nation.

“Our readiness is at the highest today. Today is D-day,” said Chiang Rai’s governor, Narongsak Osotthanakorn, adding that the families had been informed of the plan and given their support to the rescue effort.

The plight of the stricken boys, who have remained trapped inside the caves for 15 days, has transfixed Thailand, as rescue efforts have become ever more urgent.

Their families sat glued to television sets and phones for updates Sunday, expressing hope that their boys would soon return home.

One of the boys, Peerapat Sompeangjai, turned 16 on the day the group went missing in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex, in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand.

On Sunday, his 17-year-old sister Phanphatsa told CNN she promised to make her brother another birthday cake – and all his favorite food – on his safe return.

FOLLOW LIVE UPDATES

Rescuers have a dwindling window of opportunity in which to extract the boys, with heavy rain falling shortly after the rescue operation began on Sunday afternoon and forecasters predicting yet more monsoon rains in the coming days, effectively sealing off the cave until October.

“We have two obstacles: water and time. This what we have been racing against since day one. We have to do all we can, even though it is hard to fight the force of nature,” said Osotthanakorn, as a light rain began to fall across the site.

“All we need is a suitable time window when all conditions are right to carry out the operation, we have been waiting for this right moment.”

Race against time

At the entrance to the caves, volunteers assisting in the operation described the rescue attempt as a “now or never” scenario.

The boys and their coach are huddled together in a small chamber four kilometers (2.5 miles) inside the cave, surrounded by flood water and with a limited supply of oxygen.

Osotthanakorn described the boys’ physical and mental condition as good. “I can assure that they are ready and they are determined and ready to be extracted.”

To reach them, divers will need to successfully navigate a network of sprawling, narrow tunnels connecting the boys’ chamber with the rescue command center, known as Chamber Three.

Divers are expected to escort the boys through the tunnels one by one. Once they reach the command center, the boys will be handed over to separate specialist rescue teams, who will assist them through Chambers One and Two, according to a Thai navy official with knowledge of the rescue operation.

“Today the water level in chambers number One, Two and Three inside the cave is low enough to walk through them,” said Osotthanakorn.

Rescue teams have been constantly pumping water out of the cave system, in a race against time before the return of heavy rain forecast for Sunday.

“The water of some parts recedes as much as 30 cm (11.8 inches), it is considered the lowest level for the past 10 days.”

Signs that a rescue operation was under way were evident in the hours leading up to the announcement, as authorities installed a large green tarp around the cave entrance and removed media from outside of the camp to a separate location.

On the dirt track leading to the tunnels, a near continuous convoy of trucks and military vehicles delivered troops and medical equipment, including a large cache of oxygen tanks. On Saturday evening, numerous international military advisers could be seen entering the site, followed later by four monks in orange robes.

At the entrance to the site, a newly placed, thin white decorative flag fluttered in the wind, a Buddhist sign to indicate positive energy.