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First Group Of Trapped Boys Rescued From Cave In Thailand


Eight people have been rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand. Now rescuers are focused on the five members of the soccer team still down in the cave. The boys and their coach were discovered last Monday, and authorities spent the week trying to figure out how to get them out. Reporter Michael Sullivan joins us now from Chiang Rai, Thailand, where this is all happening.

Michael, just fill us in. What is the latest?

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: So the Reuters news agency and local media outlets are reporting that rescue workers have taken four people out of the cave today on stretchers - presumably, the boys - and that several are already on their way to the hospital, though there's been no official confirmation of this, but several police helicopters have taken off in the direction of the hospital in Chiang Rai from near the cave site. But if this is true, if these are the boys and they're safe, it's good news. Earlier in the day, officials had announced they were starting phase two to get another group out as they got the four out yesterday, and they said, with any luck, they'd have good news for us later this evening. And this seems like that news - eight down, five to go.

MARTIN: So four yesterday, another group today - why do - can they only extract a few people at a time? What's so complicated about this rescue?

SULLIVAN: Because it's a very, very hostile environment inside the cave, one that has portions that are just completely submerged, which means that the boys need to swim through them using diving gear they've just been taught to use, guided by a team of very experienced divers, some 13 foreigners and five Thai navy SEALs who take the boys one at a time - one diver in front, one in back - and guide them down this narrow, rock-strewn, water-filled passageway down to the cave entrance. And these are kids, remember, so they're not used to this kind of thing. And it's dark, and it must be nerve-racking, so you don't want to take them all out at once because if someone freezes, then that could create a bottleneck and disaster. So the fact that they have now gotten what appears to be eight out already safely is amazing when you think about it - remarkable.

MARTIN: Especially considering the weather challenges, right? The rain has been a big concern.

SULLIVAN: The rain has been a big concern, and they've caught a break in the past day or so because today, it didn't rain at all. Last night, it rained very heavily, and it actually flooded parts of the cave inside, but they were able to pump out those flooded portions enough. But there's still a lot of rain that's forecast, and that really has officials worried. And that's why they started this whole rescue operation yesterday, because they know if the cave fills up, then this rescue operation will be curtailed.

MARTIN: I mean, these boys, the members of this soccer team and their coach - they have been down in these caves for two weeks, right? It took an entire week before anyone even knew they were down there, until authorities discovered them. How have they been able to survive that long down there?

SULLIVAN: These are tough kids. They're 11 to 16 years old. Their coach is 25 years old. I'm told that they brought some snacks in with them, and there was some water in the cave, as well. But when the rescue divers first found them last Monday, they were very, very thin and appeared very dehydrated, and the first thing they asked was, do you have food?

MARTIN: We should just underscore - I mean, this is obviously so dangerous. One of the Thai navy SEALs who's been part of this rescue effort was killed on Friday, was he not?

SULLIVAN: He was, and he was killed trying to set some oxygen tanks along the line that these boys ultimately are coming down to get out of the cave.

MARTIN: We will have more as this story unfolds. Michael Sullivan has been covering it from the beginning - again, the second effort, second rescue attempt happening in Thailand, trying to get this group of soccer players out of this flooded cave. Michael joined us from Skype from Chiang Rai. Thanks so much.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome. Let's hope for more better news tomorrow. 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.