Four more boys have been safely rescued from the Thai cave in a rapid-fire operation, bringing the total rescued to eight.
That leaves four young soccer players and their 25-year-old coach trapped inside the mountain in northern Thailand.
But the head of the operation would not confirm whether all five could come out today, raising questions over whether coach Ekkapol Chantawong could be left behind to spend a lonely night in the cave.
Narongsak Osottanakorn said in a press conference on Monday night that it will be up to the divers to decide whether it is possible to save all five at once.
He warned that “the plan is designed for rescuing four” and “for safety, the best number is four”.
The former governor of Chiang Rai province said he hoped for “100 per cent success” when the rescue resumes on Tuesday, with the mission currently on hold again for up to 20 hours.
The eight boys who have been rescued are “safe and conscious” in hospital, said Narongsak.
They were placed in isolation as a precaution, although he said the authorities may soon allow the parents to see the boys.
Local officials refused to confirm the identities of those who had been saved, and their parents have not been informed of who is out.
The families have agreed to remain at the cave until all of the boys and the coach are saved.
The five people still stuck in Tham Luang cave have also been assessed as healthy by a doctor, who journeyed three kilometres through the cave complex to reach them.
A senior Thai officer said the rescue plan was reviewed after Sunday’s operation to make it “sharper”, with Monday’s evacuation completed in nine hours — around two hours faster than the previous day’s operation.
Rescue teams re-entered the cave system at 11am local time on Monday. The fifth boy blinked into daylight at around 4.30pm and was carried to a waiting ambulance on a stretcher, witnesses said.
He was then transferred to a helicopter and taken to join the other rescued boys at a hospital in Chiang Rai.
The sixth boy emerged at around 6pm local time, and the seventh and eighth in quick succession at 7pm.
The Thai Navy SEALs confirmed on Monday night that eight of the “Wild Boar” soccer team had escaped the complex. “8TH BOAR … Hooyah,” the SEALs posted on their Facebook page.
Cheers were heard outside the cave as reports emerged that four more boys had successfully made the dangerous journey to the surface in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park.
But with monsoon rains pouring down again, the rescue of the final five could prove even more perilous, with many concerned rising floodwaters in the cave complex could complicate rescue efforts and affect the evacuation.
Officials insisted that storms forecast for Chiang Rai province in Thailand’s far north had been factored into their decision to go ahead with the complicated and dangerous plan for the boys aged between 11 and 16 to dive out of the cave.
Those leading the effort have become increasingly upbeat, telling the media to expect “good news” ahead of Monday night’s rescue despite the many challenges, and the death of a navy diver in the caves just days ago.
Narongsak said the boys were in good spirits but hungry, revealing they were craving pad kra pao — a popular dish of spicy basil chicken with rice.
The boys most up to the challenge of diving in the murky waters would be the next to be retrieved, after the weakest were reportedly saved first.
He said the water level was “not worrisome” even though heavy rains have fallen on the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system, and hoped the second phase would be “quicker” than the first operation due to lower water levels. He was proved right.