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article imageRain adds urgency to rescue of last five trapped in Thai cave

By AFP     Jul 9, 2018 in World

Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave Tuesday, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted.

The members of the "Wild Boars" team, aged between 12 and 16, were guided to safety through the twisting, submerged passages of the Tham Luang cave by a team of international expert divers flanked by Thai Navy SEALs over two days in a meticulously planned operation.

The emergence of the second batch of four on Monday evening was greeted with a simple "Hooyah" by the Thai SEAL team on their Facebook page, an exclamation that lit up Thai social media.

The ups and downs of the rescue bid has entranced Thailand and also fixated a global audience, drawing comments of support from celebrities as varied as US President Donald Trump, football star Lionel Messi and tech guru Elon Musk.

Thailand's prime minister welcomed Musk into the cave complex late Monday, with the American later tweeting a standing offer of a mini-submarine escape pod to help the remaining five leave the tunnels.

Fresh rains on Tuesday added urgency to the final stages of the treacherous rescue bid, several kilometres inside a mountain and through flooded, tight corridors.

It was unclear what time the rescue effort would resume on Tuesday, with operations chief Narongsak Osottanakorn telling reporters divers had crafted plans to extract four people at a time.

"If we bring five we have to change the plan," he told reporters late Monday.

A rescue official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the timings of Tuesday's dives were not yet set.

"But I guarantee they will all be safe," he added, reflecting an increasingly bullish attitude after two successful operations so far.

Thai authorities said the first four rescued Sunday were in "good health" but have been kept in quarantine until the risk of infection subsides.

Rescue chief Narongsak did not issue an update on the condition of the second group, who were also whisked to hospital.

Information on the rescue operation, the health of those rescued -- and their identities -- has been tightly guarded by Thai authorities.

But the progress of a rescue, which early on had looked like it could be stalled until after the monsoon season, has brought joy to the friends and family of the stricken group.

"I want him to be healthy and come back to study quickly," Phansa Namyee, classmate of 16-year-old footballer Night said.

"I want to go play with them... take him to some restaurants and spend time together."

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