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Divers start extraction of 13 trapped in cave

MAE SAI, Thailand (AFP) – Elite divers yesterday began the extreme­ly dangerous operation to extract 12 boys and their football coach trapped in a flooded cave complex in northern Thailand for more than two weeks, as looming monsoon rains threatened the rescue effort.

The “Wild Boars” team has been stuck in a cramped chamber several kilometers inside the Tham Luang cave complex since June 23, when they went in after football practice and were hemmed in by rising wa­ters.

Their plight has transfixed Thailand and the rest of the world, as authori­ties have struggled to devise a plan to get the boys and their coach out through twisting, narrow, and jagged passageways that in some places are completely flooded.

“Today is the D Day. The boys are ready to face any challenges,” rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told re­porters near the cave site as weather forecasters warned of more monsoon rains late yesterday that would cause more flooding in the cave.

Narongsak said the first boy was expected to be brought out of the cave by around 9 p.m. (10 p.m. in Manila last night), meaning the trip would take around 11 hours.

The boys, aged from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were found dishevelled and hungry by British cave diving specialists nine days after they ventured in.

But initial euphoria over finding the boys alive quickly turned into deep anxiety as rescuers raced to find a way to get them out, with Narongsak at one point dubbing the effort “Mis­sion Impossible.”

The death of a former Thai Navy Seal diver who ran out of oxygen in the cave on Friday underscored the danger of the journey even for adept professionals.