MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And there was hopeful news in Thailand today, when rescuers led four boys out of the cave where they've been trapped for more than two weeks now. But you probably know that that means that there are still eight more boys and their coach trapped in the cave where they're awaiting the next phase of this very complicated rescue operation. Reporter Michael Sullivan has been covering this story for us, and he's with us now once again from Thailand.
Michael, thanks so much for joining us again.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: You're welcome.
MARTIN: So the rescue operation that people around the world have been, you know, hoping for and waiting for finally got underway. How did it go?
SULLIVAN: Well, the Chiang Rai governor, the man in charge, said the first stage went much better than expected. They got the four boys out a few hours earlier than he had predicted at his morning news conference when he announced they were going in. And the four were taken to the hospital in Chiang Rai as soon as they got out, though their condition isn't known.
So that's good, right? But, at the same time, at his news conference at the end of the day, he said the next phase of the operation would start in 10 to 20 hours, which sounds like a break. Now, why the break? Maybe to get more supplies, more oxygen, more rest for the divers, for the boys. It's hard to tell, and the governor didn't really offer any explanation.
MARTIN: Can you tell us a bit more about this operation? I mean, just looking at the pictures, it seems like - so there are a lot of scuba divers involved. Just tell us a bit more about it, if you can.
SULLIVAN: Well, the governor said this morning that it involves 13 foreign divers - specialists, he said - and five Thai Navy SEALs. But these are the people tasked specifically with accompanying the boys out. There are many, many more, both Thai divers and volunteers from around the world, involved in the operation on the ground and in the cave. And many of them are experienced cave divers, which certainly helps because this is a very dangerous operation. We saw that on Friday when one of the volunteers, a former Thai Navy SEAL, died while placing additional oxygen tanks along the route to be taken by the boys on their way out.
MARTIN: Well, we mentioned that this is just the first stage. Can you tell us a little bit more about what's next? And is this next phase any more difficult than the first part?
SULLIVAN: I think they're probably about the same. Except there was a suggestion today from one of the officials that the boys who came out today were some of the stronger ones, so it might take a little bit longer with the next group, yeah? And, in fact, at this morning's press conference that announced the beginning of the operation, a Thai general said he thought the operation could take two or three or even four days depending on the circumstances.
And remember - a lot of this cave is still flooded, which means some treacherous conditions for novice divers, like these boys are, even though they're being shepherded by two divers each, and there are ropes to guide them along the way.
MARTIN: And I also understand that it's raining where you are. How does this complicate things?
SULLIVAN: Yeah. I don't know if you can hear it, but it is raining, and, in fact, it's been raining pretty hard for the last couple of hours. And this whole idea of more rain and of heavier rain is one of the reasons the authorities chose to pull the trigger today on trying to get the boys out - because they fear more rain that's in the forecast that could increase the level of water inside the cave, both in the staging areas where the divers have set up inside and even the part higher up where the boys found refuge two weeks ago. If the rain continues - if the heavy rain continues, it could set the operation back considerably.
But, as far as today goes, it's a victory - four boys rescued, eight more and their coach to go.
MARTIN: That is Michael Sullivan in Thailand.
Michael, thanks so much for speaking with us.
SULLIVAN: You're quite welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.