Updated at 12:26 p.m. ET
A dozen boys and their soccer coach have been found alive inside a flooded cave in Thailand more than a week after they went missing, according to a provincial governor.
“We found them safe. But the operation isn’t over,” Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osotthanakorn was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. He said Thai navy seals had located all 13 inside the cave system.
Hours earlier on Monday, rescue divers had been trying to get through a narrow passage in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai. Osotthanakorn said rescuers had managed to reach a three-way junction leading to where the boys were believed to be, according to The Bangkok Post.
“The divers from a Thai navy SEAL unit were within [1,600 feet] of a chamber containing an elevated rock mound, nicknamed ‘Pattaya Beach’ by cavers, which could have provided the boys with a refuge when heavy rains flooded the cave, blocking the way out,” Reuters reports.
“The Seal unit last night reached the T-junction and today they will press ahead to the left, but one obstacle we’ve found is a very small hole which we need to widen so that people can go through,” the governor said Monday.
The boys, reportedly ages 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach went missing on June 23. Heavy rains that flooded cave passages are thought to have trapped them. Their bicycles, backpacks and soccer shoes were found near the cave’s entrance.
Last week, a team from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, including survival specialists, were flown in from Okinawa to help with the search.
Friends and family members of the missing had clung to hope that their loved ones would be found alive.
Thanakorn Ingsilapakul, 15, of Mae Sai Prasitsart school, where six of the missing boys attended, told Reuters he is “really worried,” about his classmate in the cave, “but I am hopeful because my friend is strong.”
Divers have been hampered by muddy water rising up in sections of the cave and forcing rescuers to withdraw over safety concerns, according to the AP reports.
On Sunday, “the divers went forward with a more methodical approach, deploying a rope line and extra oxygen supplies along the way,” the AP writes.
The Post reports:
“Above the cave, officials and volunteers were searching for shafts that might provide a back door into the cave. ‘We are exploring 11 potential shafts today. The deepest one is 200 metres [650 feet]. If it goes down through, we will be very lucky,’ the Chiang Rai governor said.
Meanwhile, the navy deployed 20 more [SEAL] divers to the site, increasing their numbers to 84.”