The second day of a harrowing mission to rescue a junior soccer team and their coach from Thailand's Tham Luang Cave concluded as successfully as the first, Thai officials said on Monday.
Four more boys were freed from the flooded cave system, Narongsak Osatanakorn, the former Chiang Rai governor who has been heading up rescue efforts, told reporters on Monday night. That brings the total number of children rescued to eight.
Five more people remain in the cave. The boys' 25-year-old coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, is believed to be among them, The Guardian reported.
Osatanakorn said the rescue operation would be suspended for a while — as it had after the first day — so that oxygen supplies and other gear could be replenished. He did not state specifically when they would be ready to go again but said it could take up to 20 hours.
When asked whether the remaining five people would be brought out all at once, Osatanakorn said only that the rescue team's plan is "designed for rescuing four."
Osatanakorn said an international team of more than 100 rescue workers, including 18 divers, were involved in Monday's mission.
One boy reportedly emerged from the cave before 5 p.m. local time — hours before anyone was expected to be freed. Another was rescued an hour later, and two others soon followed.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visited the cave site on Monday night and was seen talking with rescue workers and family members of the stranded team.
The rescue mission to free the 12 members of the Wild Boars junior soccer team and their coach began on Sunday morning local time.
The first four boys were led out of the cave by a team of rescue divers on Sunday night. Osatanakorn said the four children had to dive more than half a mile to get to safety. They wore full-faced masks "while hanging on to the bodies of rescue divers," Channel News Asia reported.
Thai officials had said Sunday that they were temporarily suspending the rescue effort so they could replenish supplies. "We've used all the oxygen," Osatanakorn told reporters. He said the mission would resume within "10 to 20 hours."
On Monday afternoon, Osatanakorn said the same group of divers involved in Sunday's rescue operation had entered the cave at 11 a.m. local time to rescue the group still stuck inside. He said recent rains had not affected water levels in the cave and conditions were expected to be "as good as they were on Sunday," reported The Guardian.
The 12 boys, ages 11 to 16, and their coach went missing on June 23 after heavy rains entrapped them in the Tham Luang cave where they'd gone for a trek.
The group was found nine days later in a cramped chamber 2.5 miles inside the cave system by two British volunteer rescue divers. Since then, an international team of engineers, rescuers and divers has been delivering supplies and food to the children and their coach ― and mulling ways to best help them escape.
Even tech billionaire Elon Musk has been lending a helping hand. On Sunday, he shared photos and video on Twitter showing a "tiny, kid-size submarine" that could potentially help with the rescue effort.
The boys, some of whom don't know how to swim, have been taught diving techniques to prepare them for their difficult journey home.
The extreme danger of the rescue effort was underscored last week when a former Thai Navy SEAL, Samarn Poonan, died after he fell unconscious while placing oxygen tanks deep inside the cave.
The four boys who were rescued on Sunday appeared to be in good health, Thai officials said, but were undergoing a battery of medical tests in the hospital to ensure they were free from disease and infection. The boys have reportedly not met their families, although a senior official told The Guardian on Monday that they could soon be reunited.
"No hugging" or "touching" would be allowed between the boys and their relatives, however, until all medical tests are completed, the official said.
Pad kra pao, a Thai chicken dish, was said to be the first meal that the four boys requested. Osatanakorn said on Monday that the boys were as yet unable to enjoy that dish, but said they'd started eating "normal food" like diluted porridge.
This article has been updated with additional details about the rescues.