The rescue mission to free 12 boys trapped in a Thai cave is underway

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Thai authorities have begun a bold rescue mission to free a soccer team of 12 boys and their coach, who’ve been trapped in Tham Luang cave network in Northern Thailand for two weeks following rainy season floods today.

Fairfax Media reports that senior rescue officials met this morning to discuss the details of the complex and dangerous plan as rain continues to fall in the region and concerns grow about falling oxygen levels in the cavern where they are trapped, around 4km into the cave network.

The combination has rescuers racing against both continued monsoonal rains this weekend and oxygen levels that have dropped from 21% to 15%. On Thursday, a former Navy SEAL diver assisting with the rescue mission died from a lack of oxygen as he was transported oxygen tanks through the cave network as part of effort.

The team and their coach first entered the caves on June 23 and were found alive last Monday, nine days later.

Media have been asked to leave the area by 9am local time (noon, AEST) Sunday, and the site was evacuated for a “rescue operation”. Ambulances have turned up at the site. If the children can be extracted, they will take them to a makeshift helipad to fly the boys to hospital in Chiang Rai, 70km away.

Fairfax reports that the mission will require the children, aged 11 to 15, to spend six to eight hours swimming and diving the first 1.7 kilometres towards the entrance to a chamber where they can potentially walk a further 1.5km to the surface after efforts to reduce water levels in the front part of the cave network appear to have been successful.

Fairfax says water levels in the first 600 metres of the cave remained stable overnight, despite heavy rain.

The round trip for experienced divers takes 12 hours. The rescue attempt is likely to focus on extracting the strongest and oldest boys first to see how they cope with the challenge.

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While the boys have been regaining their strength after rescuers took them high energy foods, and experts have been training them in diving techniques, for the dangerous and highly technical dives required to escape.

ABC News reports a team of four elite divers who will lead the rescue operation, and they might be brought out in stages.

It’s believed that two of the boys, as well as the 25-year-old coach, who were in a weak condition when discovered, have improved considerably since then.

Reuters reports that the army Major General in charge of the medical side of the operation has 13 teams standing by for health assessments as the 12 boys and their coach emerge, to check for hypothermia and a potentially fatal lung infection called “cave disease” caused by bat faeces.

A press conference is scheduled for today.

The former Chiang Rai provincial governor, Narongsak Osottanakorn, who is leading the operation, said on Saturday that “three to four days from now is the most favourable time for the operation and rescue mission”, adding that “We’re still at war with water and time.”

Fairfax Media has more here.

NOW READ: These photos show the scale and complexity of the efforts to rescue the Thai soccer team stuck in a flooded cave

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