Expert divers have so far rescued eight boys from a flooded cave in Thailand, leaving another four youngsters and their football coach to be brought to safety.
After day two of the rescue operation, Thai navy officials said four more boys had been led to safety on Monday after the first four were rescued on Sunday.
A Thai army commander said the operation went “smoothly” but warned the next phase “will depend on all conditions” with rain forecast for the coming week. He asked for three more days to complete the rescue mission.
“I ask for three for days and all the Wild Boar team will come out,” he said.
Chiang Rai’s acting governor Narongsak Osatanakorn, who is leading the rescue mission, said the health of the remaining five inside the cave was “still good” and added that he was not sure if the they would be led out of the cave in one or more operations.
He said the four boys rescued on Sunday were “hungry but in good health”. Monday’s arrivals from the Tham Luang cave were rushed to hospital in ambulances after spending more than two weeks trapped in the cave. Their condition is not yet known.
Speaking at a news conference ahead of Monday’s operation, Mr Narongsak touched on concerns after monsoon rains lashed the region for several hours the night before.
Officials said it had not changed the water level in the cave but forecasters have warned rain could continue to hit the area throughout the week.
Mr Narongsak said: “All conditions are still as good as they were yesterday… we are ready like before. And we will do it faster because we are afraid of the rain.”
The four boys rescued on Sunday were each accompanied by two divers as they were gradually extracted from the cave.
The mission chief told reporters: “They are well and happy. This morning they complained that they are hungry and they asked for fried basil with rice.”
He also said they would be “kept away” from physical contact with their parents until the youngsters are no longer at risk of infection.
“They [the first four] will be kept away from their parents for a while because we are concerned about infections,” he said, before adding that doctors would decide on family visits and the boys would be kept “at a distance” or seen “through glass”.
The names of the rescued boys have not been released out of “respect for those families whose sons are still trapped inside”, the mission chief said.
The same divers who rescued the children on Sunday went back in to collect the next four on Monday, with the country’s interior minister Anupong Paojinda saying they would conduct the next operation as they already knew of the cave’s conditions and how to safely bring the children out.
Officials previously said they were battling a “war with water and time” to save the team – warning it could be up to four days before all 13 people are brought to safety. Among them are weak swimmers and children as young as 11.
Their only way out is through dark, tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents – perilous conditions that claimed the life of a former Thai navy SEAL last week.
A total of 90 divers are involved in the operation and 50 of them are foreign, some of them from the UK.
The boys went missing after football practice with their 25-year-old coach on 23 June.
They had set out on an adventure to explore the cave – reportedly for a picnic to celebrate one of their birthdays. But bursts of monsoon rain caused the water inside the cave to rise, leaving them trapped.
The rescue mission is expected to continue on Tuesday.