Thai cave rescue mission: What you need to know

A Thai policeman guards an area under rainfall near the Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province

He said 13 global cave diving experts and five elite rescuers from Thai Navy SEAL joined the operation, adding that the trapped boys will be dived out one by one and each boy will be escorted by two divers.

Jedsada Chokdumrongsuk, permanent secretary at the Public Health Ministry, said the first four boys rescued, aged 12 to 16, are now able to eat normal food, though they can not yet take the spicy dishes favoured by many Thais.

She said histoplasmosis, also known as "cave disease" was one concern as was leptospirosis, an infection caused by bacteria which can lead to severe bleeding from the lungs or even meningitis.

But the governor supervising the mission said earlier that mild weather and falling water levels over the last few days had created optimal conditions for an underwater evacuation that won't last if it rains again.

Experienced divers have to walk on rocky terrain against strong currents, swim and dive in the dark through a labyrinth of passages in murky water for six hours to reach the survivors.

One of soccer's most popular teams, Manchester United, expressed its relief over the rescue and invited the boys and their coach, as well as those who saved them, to come see them play on their home ground this season. With heavy rains expected in the coming days, there's a danger that the water level could rise, drowning the group.

In the early hours of Saturday morning he said the boys were not yet ready to dive out of the cave, a complex and risky task through twisting and jagged submerged passageways.

The local governor in charge of the rescue says the mission was launched Sunday morning because floodwaters inside the cave are at their lowest level in days and rains forecast to hit the region risk flooding the cave again.

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach became stranded when they went exploring in the cave after a practice football game.

He also said the operation to extract the boys could take three to four days depending on the weather and the earliest the boys would emerge would be 9pm local time, which is about 2am NZT.

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Elon Musk's Space X rocket company tested a "tiny kid-sized submarine" that could potentially help the children through the narrow, flooded cave passageways.

Musk had tweeted after a Twitter user pleaded him to help the 12 boys and their coach.

They were located on a small cliff about 4 kilometers away from the cave entrance when the search entered the ninth day on July 2. Monsoon flooding cut off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for nearly 10 days. "Construction complete in about 8 hours, then 17 hour flight to Thailand", Musk tweeted just before noon, California time.

Musk on Tuesday visited the cave and posted pictures and videos online.

"I'm fine", wrote another one.

"Don't be anxious", wrote another boy, Mick.

"Don't be anxious, I miss everyone". And I promise I will take care of the kids as best as I can. "Although, don't forget to set up my birthday party". Brothers from Thai SEALs are taking good care of me.

The most touching note came from one whose name was not clear: "I'm doing fine, but the air is a little cold, but don't worry".

"Thank you for all the moral support and I apologize to the parents".

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