Trapped boys in Thai cave write touching letters to parents

Rescue personnel arrive as rescue operations continue for 12 boys and their coach trapped at Tham Luang cave at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province

Monsoon flooding cut off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for nearly 10 days. The only way to reach them was by navigating dark and tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents and in oxygen-depleted air.

Getting out via the same route looks like the only feasible option, but a high-risk one, Thai officials say.

Cave rescue specialists have cautioned against the boys diving out, except as a last resort, because of the dangers posed by inexperienced people using diving gear.

The path out is considered especially complicated because of twists and turns in some narrow flooded passages.

The order to leave the site came a day after the rescue mission chief said conditions were ideal for the evacuation to begin, but also as fears mounted that expected rains could thwart the plan by reflooding the cave.

Nasan Konkayan, team leader of the bird's nest collectors, said they hiked from the top of the cave to where they believed the boys were stuck below, but could not find an opening.

Sustained heavy rains could make the water rise to the shelf where the children were sitting, reducing the area to "less than 10 square meters", he added.

Narongsak Osatanakorn said at a midnight news conference on Friday.

He says: "The plan that I've held on to from the beginning is that we have to bring the kids out and the determining factor of this plan is to have as little water as possible". The boys are being given high-protein ready-to-eat meals, similar to army rations. It is only a small battle we've won, but the war has not ended. The rescue team are looking after us well. The notes were sent out with divers who made an 11-hour, back-and-forth journey to act as postmen.

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Tan (nickname Titan): Mum and Dad don't worry about me, I'm fine. "Please tell Yod to take me out to a fried chicken shop".

While a boy called Nick writes, "Mum and Dad, I love you and Toi".

A team of Thai Navy SEALS, soldiers, police and volunteers have been working around the clock to try and drain the cave. You don't need to be anxious about me.

Another boy named Bew, whose family are shopkeepers, said: "Don't worry dad and mum". But don't forget to do my birthday party.

"We still have a lot of water at Chamber Three", said the director of the provincial natural disaster department, Komsan Suwanampha, referring to a point closer to the mouth of cave where the SEALs have set up a base of operations, and where rescuers hope to bring the boys out by stretcher.

The football coach who took the boys into the cave has written to their parents apologising for his actions. "Thank you for all the moral support and I apologize to the parents", said the handwritten note delivered to the outside world by divers. "I promise to take the very best care of the kids", he said in a note given to a diver on Friday and published on the Thai Navy SEAL Facebook page on Saturday. Four navy SEALS are stationed with the boys to monitor their health, provide food to them and check on oxygen levels.

Rescuers had fed a kilometres-long air pipe into the cave to restore oxygen levels in the chamber where the team was sheltering with medics and divers.

Players from teams including England and Sweden have recorded good luck video messages for the trapped boys, and Federation Internationale de Football Association has invited the 13 to the World Cup final should they be rescued in time and are healthy enough to travel.

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