Billionaire techpreneur Elon Musk sends mini-submarine for Thai cave rescue amid fears that 25-year-old coach could be left stranded alone
About six hours into the third day of the Thailand cave rescue mission, the ninth and tenth members of the youth football team trapped in a flooded cavern were carried out on a stretcher.
While there has not yet been an official confirmation of Tuesday's first rescues, an ambulance was spotted leaving the rescue tents at the cave entrance.
The remaining four schoolboys and their 25-year-old coach, who have now been stuck in the cave network for 18 days, are planned to be rescued later on Tuesday. The final rescue operation commenced on Tuesday morning.
Due to the increased number of people who need to be rescued in the last mission, it will be more difficult than the previous two days, said the governor leading the rescue operation. However, he is expecting that "everybody will be out today."
Once the remaining Wild Boar FC players and their coach are freed on Tuesday, there would be four Thai Navy SEALs, including one medic, who would be extracted after the civilians are brought to safety. These public servants have been accompanying the trapped schoolboys ever since they were found huddled together on a muddy ledge 800 meters underground on July 2.
Officials have warned that the remaining five must be extracted out of the Tham Luang Cave before the heavy monsoon downpours make it impossible to evacuate them.
"The water level is almost at the same level as for the first two days so we decided to carry out the operation for the last batch," Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said.
"If nothing goes wrong the remaining boys, the doctor [a Thai Navy Seal medic] and the three [Thai] Navy Seals who have [been] staying with the boys since the beginning of the mission will come out this evening."
Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur, personally arrived at the Tham Luang cave to deliver a mini-submarine that his tech team built for extraction. However, it was deemed impractical for the rescue operation by the mission commander.
On Tuesday, the renowned tech pioneer tweeted that he had "just returned from Cave 3", referring to the rescuers' command center inside the harrowing cave network.
A video showing members of the rescue team masterfully working their way through the muddy tunnels along with photos of the cave interior was posted by Musk on his Twitter. In his tweet, he added, "Mini-sub is ready if needed. It is made of rocket parts & named Wild Boar after the kids' soccer team. Leaving here in case it may be useful in the future."
Videos of the submarine being tested in a swimming pool in California with simulated narrow passages such as the cave system surfaced on social media earlier this week.
However, rescue chief Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said today that 'although his [Musk's] technology is good and sophisticated it's not practical for this mission.'
On Monday night, officials suggested that the 25-year-old coach, Ekaphol Chantawong, could have to stay alone underground owing to the devised system of rescuing four boys at a time, which was working well. However, they clarified this morning that all those who were stranded would be extracted today.
A Danish diving instructor, Ivan Karadzic, who was part of the team helping to guide the children out of the muddy tunnel, praised their bravery as the final mission began. "They are being forced to do something that no kid has ever done before," Ivan Karadzic, told the BBC.
"It is not in any way normal for kids to do cave diving aged 11. They are diving in something that is considered an extremely hazardous environment, in zero visibility, the only light in there is the torches you bring yourself.
"We were obviously very afraid of any kind of panic. I cannot understand how cool these small kids are ... Incredibly strong kids."
A Thai doctor revealed that two of the eight rescued boys are currently being treated for pneumonia, while the other six have hypothermia. That said, the rescued boys are happy and in good spirits, feasting on bread with chocolate spread at the medical center.
When the parents visited them last night, they were instructed to wear surgical robes and masks and strictly told not to embrace their kids in order to prevent any kind of infection, as the boys were in a vulnerable state.
"These boys are being treated with antibiotics. All of the boys were suffering from hypothermia when they arrived at the hospital," Dr Jedsada said.
"But they have all now reached normal body temperature. The hypothermia could have been a result of diving for several hours. All of the boys have been given inoculations and rabies inoculations because of the concern that they may have been bitten by bats which live in the cave. One of the boys has a slow heartbeat but overall they [the eight evacuated so far] are in a safe condition and their lives are not in danger."
The blood samples taken from the rescued children will be sent to Bangkok, where a specialist would test them for "emerging diseases", the doctor said.