As the eight boys already rescued from Thailand's Tham Luang Cave convalesce in a Chiang Rai hospital, an international rescue team has entered the flooded cave system for the third consecutive day to free the four children and their 25-year-old soccer coach still trapped inside.
A team of 19 divers resumed the rescue mission at 10am local time on Tuesday, Thai officials said.
"If there are no abnormal factors, all five will come out today," Narongsak Osatanakorn, the former Chiang Rai governor who has been heading up rescue efforts, told reporters on Tuesday afternoon. The media greeted the news with cheers.
Osatanakorn said conditions in the cave had not changed much despite the heavy rain.
"Today we might have to wait longer, but it will be worth the longer wait," the rescue chief said, per The Australian.
The rescue operation to extract the 12 members of the Wild Boars junior soccer team and their coach from the Tham Luang Cave commenced on Sunday. Four children were freed that first day and transported to an area hospital.
Osatanakorn told reporters at the time that the four boys had to dive more than half a mile to get to safety. The children reportedly wore full-faced masks while clinging to the bodies of rescue divers. Rescue efforts were then suspended for up to 20 hours because they had used up all the oxygen and needed to replenish supplies.
The next morning, at 11 a.m. local time, the mission resumed. Four more boys were pulled from the cave that day — the first emerging before 5 p.m. After the boys were transported to the same hospital as their other teammates, Thai officials said the rescue operation would again be put on hold for up to 20 hours so rescuers could lay down new air tanks and prepare the escape route.
When asked whether the remaining five people would be brought out all at once on Tuesday, Osatanakorn said the rescue team's plan was "designed for rescuing four. For safety, the best number is four."
The youngest boy in the group, 11-year-old Chanin Wiboonrunreung, is believed to still be inside the cave. Rescue officials said the team's coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, who also remains stranded, was among "the weakest in the group" because he gave up his share of food and water to the children in the early days of their entrapment.
The boys and their coach first went missing on June 23. The group had gone for a trek when heavy rains trapped them in a dark, cramped chamber 2.5 miles inside in the Tham Luang Cave system. They were discovered nine days later by two British volunteer rescue divers.
For the five still stranded, it's been 17 days since they've been outside.
An international team of engineers, rescue workers and divers have joined forces to help the group escape. The teams have risked their lives to deliver supplies and food to the children and their coach, and divers have been teaching the boys ― some of whom don't even know how to swim ― diving and breathing techniques to prepare them for their harrowing journey home.
"He was a very capable SEAL and a triathlete who liked adventure sports," the Thai navy SEALs wrote in a Facebook post. "His determination and good intention will always be in the heart of all SEAL brothers. Today, you get some good rest. We will complete the mission for you."
Tech billionaire Elon Musk has also been lending a helping hand to the rescue effort. Musk shared photographs on Twitter Tuesday morning that appeared to show him visiting the cave site. His rocket company SpaceX has developed a "tiny, kid-size submarine" to help with the rescue and Musk said it was "ready if needed."
The rescue chief later told reporters that while Musk's "technology is good and sophisticated, it's not practical for this mission."
Thai health officials told reporters on Tuesday morning that despite their ordeal, the eight boys who have been rescued appear to be in good health, The Guardian reported. Two boys are being treated for mild lung infections, doctors said, adding that medical tests were still ongoing.
While the first group to be rescued has been reunited with their parents, officials said they had to meet from a distance ― "through glass." The second group will likely see their parents later on Tuesday.
The first group has reportedly been allowed to eat chocolate and bread after requesting it. The second group is still eating "medical food." The boys will be hospitalized for at least a week.
Fifa's president invited the team to fly to Russia to watch the World Cup final, which is scheduled to take place on Sunday. However, Dr. Jesada Chokedamrongsuk of the Thai ministry of public health said the boys will not be able to make the trip, reported Channel News Asia.
"They can watch on TV," he said.
This is a developing story.