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After 2nd Rescue, 4 Boys And Their Coach Remain Trapped In Cave In Thailand


We go now to Northern Thailand and the dramatic rescue of the 12 boys and their soccer coach who've been trapped in a flooded cave since June 23. Rescuers have now brought out eight of the boys - four yesterday and four earlier today. That leaves five people still in the cave.

Reporter Michael Sullivan has been following this rescue and joins us now from Chiang Rai. Hi, Michael.


SHAPIRO: Bit of a delay on the line. I understand there's real urgency because of the rains that have flooded this cave. And it sounds like there's a downpour happening now. What are the concerns about the water level there?

SULLIVAN: Yeah. I don't know if you can hear it, Ari, but I'm sitting next to my open window, and the rain that they've been fearing is coming down very hard. And I'm only about 20 miles away from the cave complex.

And this is exactly what they've been fearing all along - that the heavy rain would start again in earnest, that it would flood the cave even more and that the rescuers who've pre-positioned themselves in parts of the cave called chamber 3 might be flooded out, which would obviously delay the rescue effort, or that the rain could even reach the area high up in the cave where the boys have been trapped for the past two weeks. And that's why they decided to pull the trigger on the rescue on Sunday.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned that there are rescuers stationed at various chambers along through the cave. Explain how this is working bringing out four boys at a time.

SULLIVAN: They're bringing them out four at a time because it's a very treacherous 2 1/2 mile journey down this twisting cave, parts of which are still submerged and parts of which are extremely narrow, barely wide enough for one person to get through. And they've been taking them out one-by-one with one diver in front of each of them and one in back to push and pull them along. And there's also guide ropes attached to the walls to make things easier.

But remember, Ari; these are kids. And they're being asked to use masks and oxygen, and they've never dived before. And to try to bring them out at the same time all at once - that would be a logistical nightmare because if one of them got stuck or panicked, it could create a bottleneck, right? And that would be disastrous. And then there's also the question of oxygen. They've been pre-positioning oxygen tanks along the way to have enough to get the boys out, and four boys at a time might be the limit in terms of oxygen.

SHAPIRO: And we're talking about kids who've been in the dark for weeks without adequate supplies of food and water. How are they prioritizing who gets out first?

SULLIVAN: It's unclear. We've been hearing some explanations that the healthiest have been brought out first, but there's been no real, official confirmation of that. The governor in charge of the rescue effort says all the boys who've been brought out so far are in pretty good shape. They have been getting food and medical attention since they were found a week ago. But there is some concern about the health of the coach, who we're being told will be the last taken out.

So the plan is to take four more out tomorrow if, as the governor says, the weather god cooperates. Here's his direct quote. "If the rain god helps us, then we may be able to work fast. But if the rain god doesn't help, then it could be challenging."

SHAPIRO: OK, so four more come out tomorrow. That leaves just the coach. What can you tell us about the people who have been rescued so far? How are those kids doing?

SULLIVAN: The governor says that they're all doing pretty well. They're in hospital in Chiang Rai. They've been isolated. They haven't been able to see their parents yet because their medical condition is still being assessed. But the governor says they are in pretty good shape. And hopefully the next batch will be, too.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Michael Sullivan in Northern Thailand covering this dramatic cave rescue for us. Thanks, Michael.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Ari. 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.
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