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Thai Authorities Begin Rescue Effort


We begin this hour in northern Thailand, where there's some hopeful news from a dangerous and complicated mission to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach. They've been trapped in a flooded network of caves for more than two weeks. Four of the boys have been brought out. And they've been taken to a local hospital. And the official heading up the operation says it's going much better than expected. But it's not over yet. Reporter Michael Sullivan has been covering the story for us. And he joins us now from Mae Sai within view of the cave complex. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes. Good evening there. Michael...

SULLIVAN: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...It is late there. Tell us what you're hearing.

SULLIVAN: It is late. And what I'm hearing is basically what you just said. The Chiang Rai governor said at a 9 p.m. news conference here that the rescue effort was going much better than expected. And that's true because this morning when he said the operation had begun at 10 a.m., he said he expected the first boy to come out by 9 p.m. But the first two boys rescued came out several hours earlier by 6 p.m., and the second two by 8 p.m.. But - and this is a big but - the governor is now saying that the next phase of the operation is going to start in 10 to 20 hours, which seems to indicate that they've wound down for the night and aren't going to resume again until tomorrow. And I don't know if you can hear it behind me, but it is raining now and has been raining fairly heavily for the past several hours. And, of course, that's the problem.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the problem. Explain why.

SULLIVAN: It's a problem because if more rain continues, that rain will get into the cave and potentially flood the cave even more. And if that happens, the divers are going to have a much, much harder time getting the boys who remain in the cave out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. You can't overstate the danger. Earlier, a former Thai navy SEAL passed out. And he died on Friday.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. He died. He was setting oxygen tanks along the route that they were going to use to take the boys out. And unfortunately, he lost consciousness and he died. So that's one of the dangers because this cave complex - I mean, it's very, very large. These boys are almost 2, 2 and a half miles up. And it's very narrow in some places. And in other places, it's completely submerged, so these boys have been getting rudimentary lessons in diving so they can get through these fully submerged sections of the cave. But, I mean, these are boys who - some of them have not swum before. And, you know, teaching them diving in a hurry is not easy. But on the other hand, they got four out today, so there is some promise.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And just briefly, there were some handwritten notes made public Saturday that the boys wrote to their families and that were sent out with the divers. Can you tell us anything about that?

SULLIVAN: Well, in one of the notes, the coach apologized to the parents of the boys. He said he was very sorry that he had gotten them into this situation. The boys' notes were very sweet. They said they loved their parents very much. And one boy was a little bit cheeky. He said, yes, I love you. And I'm very much looking forward to having a chicken dinner when I come out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's reporter Michael Sullivan in Thailand. He joined us via Skype. Thank you.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.