Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave Tuesday, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in "good health".
The members of the "Wild Boars" team, aged between 12 and 16, were guided to safety through the twisting, submerged passages of the Tham Luang cave by a team of international expert divers flanked by Thai Navy SEALs over two days in a meticulously planned operation.
The emergence of the second batch of four on Monday evening was greeted with a simple "Hooyah" by the Thai SEAL team on their Facebook page, an exclamation that lit up Thai social media.
"All eight are in good health, no fever... everyone is in a good mental state," Jesada Chokedamrongsuk, permanent secretary of the public health ministry, told reporters Tuesday at Chiang Rai hospital in the clearest update on their condition so far.
The boys underwent x-rays and blood tests and two who had signs of pneumonia were given antibiotics and are in a "normal state", he said, adding they will all remain under observation in hospital for a week.
The ups and downs of the rescue bid has entranced Thailand and also fixated a global audience, drawing comments of support from celebrities as varied as US President Donald Trump, football star Lionel Messi and tech guru Elon Musk.
Thailand's junta leader welcomed Musk into the cave complex late Monday, with the American later tweeting a standing offer of a mini-submarine escape pod to help the remaining five leave the tunnels.
Fresh rains on Tuesday added urgency to the final stages of the treacherous rescue bid, several kilometres inside a mountain and through flooded, tight corridors.
- Infection risk -
It was unclear what time the rescue effort would resume on Tuesday, with operations chief Narongsak Osottanakorn telling reporters divers had crafted plans to extract four people at a time.
"If we bring five we have to change the plan," he told reporters late Monday.
A rescue official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the timings of Tuesday's dives were not yet set.
"But I guarantee they will all be safe," he added, reflecting an increasingly bullish attitude after two successful operations so far.
Thai authorities said the first four rescued Sunday have been kept in quarantine until the risk of infection subsides.
Information on the rescue operation, the health of those rescued -- and their identities -- has been tightly guarded by Thai authorities.
But the progress of a rescue, which early on had looked like it could be stalled until after the monsoon season, has brought joy to the friends and family of the stricken group.
"I want him to be healthy and come back to study quickly," Phansa Namyee, classmate of 16-year-old footballer Night said.
"I want to go play with them... take him to some restaurants and spend time together."