Thailand cave rescue: Attention turns to rescue after boys found

An ethnic Akha woman prays for the return of the missing members of an under-16 soccer team

Rescue teams have found all 12 boys and their soccer coach alive in a cave in Thailand nine days after the group went missing, according to a high-ranking person involved in the search and rescue operation.

Cave diver Ben Reymenants, part of the team assisting the rescue effort, told NBC's "Today" show that he was "very surprised obviously that they are all alive and actually mentally also healthy".

The governor of the Chiang Rai province, Narongsak Osottanakorn, spoke to reporters on Monday night, confirming the safety of the boys and their coach. To leave the cave, they may need to learn to dive or wait months for the flooding to recede.

Rescue divers had spent much of Monday making preparations for a final push to locate the missing, efforts that had been hampered much of the week by flooding that made moving through tight passageways filled with muddy water hard.

"(We will) prepare to send additional food to be sustained for at least four months and train all 13 to dive while continuing to drain the water", Navy Captain Anand Surawan said.

Anmar Mirza, a leading American cave rescue expert, said many challenges remain for the rescuers.

Several pumping machines are draining an estimated 1.6 million liters of water from the cave network every hour, Thai Military Major General Bancha Duriyapan told CNN.

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The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach entered the sprawling Tham Luang Nang Non cave after a soccer game on June 23, but near-constant rains have thwarted the search for them. "What day is it?" one the players asks.

The soccer team and their coach were discovered after nearly 10 days trapped inside the cave. "They have not yet reached 'the (Pattaya) beach, '" Narongsak said.

"There could be still some more days left in this rescue operation, trying to get the boys out", he said.

After four days the Thai Navy SEALs were joined by a group of thirty personnel of the United States Pacific Command and British cave diving rescue experts Richard Stanton MBE, John Volanthen, and Robert Harper.

"We found them safe".

"From chamber three to the intersection and then onto Pattaya Beach, this area is all flooded and dark", Apakorn said.

Rescuers are now working to pull the weakened team from the cave safely.

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One of the rescuer workers also said none of the boys know how to swim.

The governor of Chiang Rai province, Narongsak Osatanakorn, said Tuesday that all 13 had an "informal" medical evaluation inside the cave and most are in stable condition and none are in critical condition.

One of the boys, noticing the camera and hearing words they don't immediately understand, says in Thai, "Oh, they want to take a picture; tell him we're hungry".

"The specialty we have been able to deploy has been very useful to to the Thai authorities and has been very welcomed there. And the rainy season has just started here - water levels will rise", he said.

The group's plight has gripped the country and led to an outpouring of support. Many, many people. We're the first. Each package contains food, beverages, a phone, a flashlight, candles, a lighter and a map of the cave.

Cochrane said thousands of soldiers have been scouring the mountain looking for ventilation shafts that could provide a back door to the cave.

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