The boys, ranging in age from 11 to 16 years old, and their 25-year-old coach had been exploring in the cave after a practice game June 23.
Confirmation of the initial rescue was posted on the Thai Navy SEAL official Facebook page late Sunday (July 8) evening, several hours ahead of the initial schedule provided by authorities. Chiang Rai's Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn announced that no further action would be taken until the Thailand rescue team ensured everyone that all conditions were stable for a second wave of evacuations.
The boys were discovered by British divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen on Monday.
A former member of Thailand's elite navy SEAL unit died during a dive on Thursday night, a grim turn in what began two weeks ago as an outing to celebrate the birthday of one of the boys.
Rescue divers and the boys must dive, swim and climb their way to safety along a pitch-black tunnel that at points is barely big enough to allow an adult human body to wriggle through.
Thai officials said Saturday they are anxious that heavy monsoon rain could soon make the job even more hard and they may need to quickly rescue the boys and the soccer coach from a partially flooded cave by helping them make risky dives to safety. "Everyone is a professional so we're trying to put it away and avoid it happening again", he said, adding: "Everybody is focusing on getting these boys out - keeping them alive or getting them out".
"The operation went much better than expected", said Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, who is overseeing the mission.
Falling oxygen levels, and with numerous boys not able to swim well, present further risks should they panic as they are guided slowly through the pitch-black waters. The boys sounded calm and reassuring in handwritten notes to their families that were made public Saturday.
"Don't be anxious, I miss everyone. You don't need to be anxious about me". "I miss everyone. Grandpa, Uncle, Mom, Dad and siblings, I love you all".
Expert climbers, divers and Thai Navy Seals have mulled contingencies ranging from drilling an escape route through the mountain to waiting out the monsoon inside the cave. CNN's Jonathan Miller reported that the eight boys and coach who remain stranded in the cave would likely have to stay put for a couple of days due to issues restocking oxygen supplies.
Engineers have been diverting the water flow into the cave over the past week and pumping it out at a rate of 180,000 litres an hour in an attempt to make it easier for the boys to escape and reduce the amount of time they must spend underwater. A major concern of the rescuers is that oxygen levels in their safe space could fall dangerously low.