An eleventh person was rescued on Tuesday from a flooded Thai cave complex where 12 boys and their soccer coach were trapped for more than two weeks, raising hopes all 13 would be out by the end of the day.
A Reuters witness saw three people being carried out of the Tham Luang cave on stretchers separately on Tuesday, the third day of the rescue operation.
Eight of the boys were brought out on stretchers over the first two days – four on Sunday and four on Monday.
Officials were not immediately available to comment on who had been brought out, and it was not clear what condition they were in. A person with knowledge of the rescue said just before the eleventh person was spotted, that 10 people had been brought out.
The head of the operation, Narongsak Osottanakorn, said earlier the final operation would be “more challenging” because one more survivor would be brought out, along with three Navy SEALs who have been accompanying them.
The rescuers have been learning from experience and were two hours faster in bringing the second batch of survivors out on Monday.
However, scattered monsoon rains continued to risk percolating through the limestone cave walls to flood the tunnels with fast-flowing water.
“I hope today we will be faster or the same speed as yesterday,” Narongsak said.
A crack team of foreign divers and Thai Navy SEALS has been guiding the boys out through nearly 4 km (2.5 miles) of sometimes submerged, pitch-dark channels.
The “Wild Boars” soccer team and their coach got trapped on June 23 when they set out to explore the vast cave complex after soccer practice, when a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.
British divers found the 13, huddled on a muddy bank in a partly flooded chamber several kilometres inside the complex, on Monday last week.
The eight boys brought out on Sunday and Monday were in good health overall and some asked for chocolate bread for breakfast, officials said.
Two of the boys had suspected lung infections but the four boys from the first group rescued were all walking around their hospital beds.
They are still being quarantined from their parents because of the risk of infection and would likely be kept in hospital for a week to undergo tests, officials said.
Four more of the boys were carried on stretchers out of the labyrinthine Tham Luang cave on the Myanmar border at dusk on Monday, bringing to eight the number brought out after two rescue pushes on successive days.
People across Thailand, and the world, have cheered the rescue operation, including at the Mae Sai Prasitsart school where six of the trapped boys are students.
Technology billionaire Elon Musk went into the cave on Monday and left the rescue team with a “kid-sized” submarine his company SpaceX had built, Thailand’s interior Minister Anupong Paochinda said.
Musk said on Twitter: “Just returned from Cave 3. Mini-sub is ready if needed. It is made of rocket parts & named Wild Boar after kids’ soccer team. Leaving here in case it may be useful in the future.”