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Mission to Free Boys Trapped in Thailand Cave Underway; Witness: Three Boys Have Emerged From Cave. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired July 8, 2018 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:00:26] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN ANCHOR: And our breaking news right now: the operation to save those 12 boys and their soccer coach stuck in a Thailand cave for 15 nights now. That rescue mission under way.

A local governor calling today D-day. He says that they do expect the first boy to be freed from the cave within hours.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Look at this, we've got new pictures in to CNN. An ambulance here leaving the cave with lights flashing.

Listen, we do not know if there is one of these boys who is on board, but we know that after, if one comes out soon will be put into an ambulance and then flown to a hospital. We're told this could be a three-day mission to complete.

And they truly are racing the weather now because heavy rains have started there. The monsoon downpours are expected to intensify over the next several days to a week.

Let's go to CNN's David McKenzie. He is live there near the site, that cave in Thailand.

Dave, first to you. We saw that ambulance. Again, we don't know who, if anyone, are on board that ambulance, but we know they're going to be boarding a helicopter.

Have you seen or are you even in a position where you see those helicopters take off to head to the hospital, if that's what's happening right now?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, when the helicopters do go, or if they've gone already, they're generally been moving from that mountain towards the main city Chiang Rai where the hospital workers are waiting for any of the boys taken out of that cave.

And there will be a sense that even if the first one or the second one get out, it will be a long process to make sure that all of those boys are rescued from the cave. They will have to do it one by one, an international team that is joined and led by the Thai navy, Victor, to bring them safely through that narrow passage.

When they live or if they get out, the key question will be what sort of state are they in? Are they in good health? Are they able to walk out of the cave entrance and greet their parents who are agonizingly waiting for them?

No official word yet, but there is a sense of urgency at this moment, at this hour. It's kind of the time, we believe, perhaps those first boys will come out, but it's too early to tell yet, and we'll be following it closely.

GALLAGHER: David, we talked about this setup here and how they've been working through different processes to get those boys out, and it was sort of a relay method that you were talking about. Walk us through that. How do we believe they are working to get the boys out? We're about eight -- nine hours into this mission now.

MCKENZIE: Well, that's right, and the Thai navy source describing it this way, that the international divers led by the two British divers who originally found those young boys, which was such an extraordinary event in itself, will be joined by Thai navy SEALs. Then because of those narrow passageways, they will have to push them, cajole them, push them, however they can get them to those very difficult early stages of the dive in the depths of the cave system in the mountain behind me.

Then they will hand over those boys, should they be successful, to a relay team, as it were, who will bring them out on stretchers from the chamber three of the cave, all the way to the entrance. Then they will hand them to medical personnel who have been trained, of course, and have been practicing just how to do this, and then on to the hospital. This is all a massive operation with key specialists involved. As one diver said to me, it's the best of the best from the U.S. and elsewhere who are getting involved to try to pull this off.

BLACKWELL: David, do we know if, once they get to a boy in this chamber where they've been held and they start this process, that it will not stop until the boy is out, or will there be, you know, rest periods, checkpoints there where they check, OK, you made it through the diving portion and now he's going to take a couple minutes, maybe an hour, to rest before we go through that long mile or more walk to the entrance of the cave?

MCKENZIE: I think it depends on how they want to do it, but I do feel they want to get those boys out quickly. The one key issue here, though, victor, is that difficult diving section of this journey. They'll have to do one by one, and they'll have to make sure that the boy is safe in the air of the chamber three before they even attempt the next rescue, I would believe.

[08:05:10] Because if anything goes wrong, and it's horrible to say this, but you might jam up that passageway while you're dealing with an emergency situation.

So, it's a very arduous process with skilled divers who are doing something that's never been tried before -- Victor and Dianne. GALLAGHER: And we just lost them, David, but we were looking at live

picture where it appears that there's some increased activity outside the cave there on the ground. You've also spoken with family and been able to talk to those who have been waiting for 15 days now. But, I mean, they weren't even found by those divers until July 2nd.

And so this is something that, you know, these families have expressed to you how they've been feeling during this.

MCKENZIE: Well, all through the last few days, we've been in the communities talking to the family members, the aunts, uncles, fathers, grandmothers, all waiting, all praying for their loved ones to come home. And the parents themselves will be on that mountainside as the light is fading here in Thailand, waiting, and they should be the first ones to greet those young boys. Officials have been very careful to say that they want the parents to find out first when their boys have been rescued as that is the privilege for them that have been waiting. And then they will get the word out to the rest of us.

There is also a sense that the waiting will be agonizing because those first parents will hopefully get a sense of -- they'll get the joy that they are hoping for, but then the others will need to wait to see. And there are some of those boys whose health have deteriorated in recent days according to doctors' assessments, and most likely the coach will be the final one to be brought out. These touching letters that have been going back and forth in Thai written on scraps of paper, the parents are saying, this is not your fault. This is a freak accident and you shouldn't feel bad about this.

And the coach himself apologizing for what these boys have gone through -- Victor, Dianne.

BLACKWELL: Live pictures on the screen near the site of that cave. Again, this has been going on now for more than two weeks. The boys are between 11 and 16.

We're told that the decision about who would come out first was left to the boys. A doctor will consult on their health and who was the strongest to potentially make that first journey, but the boys themselves would have to turn to each other and decide who would be the first to put on that face mask, to go through the hours of diving, to go more than a mile then to try to get out of this cave.

And, of course, hundreds of people are there to support an entire country. They are there praying and the world is watching now as we wait for -- as the Thai official says the first boy could come out today.

Our David McKenzie there, thank you so much for your reporting. We'll get back to you in just a moment.

GALLAGHER: Now, you saw the ambulance. We can tell you medical teams are waiting outside the cave. We do know that they are ready to take action as soon as the first of those boys emerge.

They are the first step in what is a massive medical operation. You heard David describe it a little bit there. But after 15 days underground, look, these boys are weak. And a team of doctors, nurses and paramedics are going to assess each one before they're even flown to the hospital. They need to make sure they have the strength, sort of see and assess what's going on with them.

Outside the hospital, a dozen dads are waiting for each of the boys and their coach.

Joining us now by the phone is Dr. Darria Long Gillespie.

Darria, can you explain to us what kind of medical concerns you would have for these boys after being in this cave for 15 days in those conditions?

DARRIA LONG GILLESPIE, UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE (via telephone): Yes, absolutely, and I know we are all waiting with baited breath to hear what happens with these boys. I think, as a lot people have been talking about, one of the major concerns is oxygen right now. They've been in an area where oxygen levels are low.

When you're scuba diving, oxygen and partial pressure of oxygen is something you worry about. So, that's going to be something they're going to be looking out, as soon as they get out, checking their oxygen levels, checking their breathing.

Also, we're still going to be worried about dehydration and malnourishment. So, they're going to be checking all of those as well.

BLACKWELL: There is also psychological concerns in preparation for something like this.

How do you psyche up, how do convince an 11-year-old boy, we're going to do this, we've got five hours together and we're going to get you out of this cave.

GILLESPIE: I think that is one of the -- that is just as hard as all the physical health concerns that we're worried about.

[08:10:00] I mean, anybody who is a diver -- I scuba-dive. I'm scared to go through, you know, under a small little tunnel, let alone diving for five hours. It's scary to even experienced divers. So, I think what they're going to be doing is just giving these boys a whole lot of hope, because that's what they need right now to be able to make it get through that.

GALLAGHER: Obviously, we worry about the oxygen, but is emotional damage, emotional recovery sort of the biggest long-term thing we're looking at here? I know it takes a while to recover before when they were dealing with the thought of starvation before they were found and located and didn't have the energy gel they've been eating. But what are we talking with long-term effects here, if that's possible?

GILLESPIE: You are exactly right. Absolutely, we're going to be very worried about what was their mental state when they were in the cave? Especially when they had no idea that rescuers were going to be coming, so it's going to really depend on what was their relationship when they were in the cave?

I spoke when I was on last about the Chilean miners. They were very supportive of each other. That's going to be extremely important for how they're going to be outside. What was their hope? And then we will just have to wait and it's going to be many weeks to months that we can really see what the long-term effect is on these young boys.

BLACKWELL: We've got the 12 boys and their coach, of course, who are being rescued, but then 13 international divers and five Thai Navy SEALs part of the rescue. This is, you know, of course, days after a former Thai navy diver died after delivering supplies to them in the cave.

Talk about the concerns for the rescuers.

GILLESPIE: That is always a concern, as a rescuer -- the rescuer doesn't want to be the person who has to be rescued. But as this one case with a Thai navy SEAL showed, diving is very dangerous. It can be anything from lack of oxygen to embolus, something blocking their bloodstream, all of these things can cause death in diving. And especially when you have a long five-hour dive, that's going to be something everyone is concerned about.

GALLAGHER: Some of the letters that have been going -- that went from the kids to their parents, it sort of struck me with just -- it reestablished how young they were, talking about things like what, you know, they wanted to eat when they left. Is it possible that due to their age that this wasn't something that they really recognized, just the gravity of their situation?

GILLESPIE: I've said before that in many ways their younger age is somewhat of a blessing, because not only are they, as you mentioned, mentally they probably don't understand, they likely don't understand the degree of risk undertaken. I'm sure they haven't been told about the Thai navy SEAL and I hope they do not find out, any of them, until they are way out of that cave.

But physically as well, they are in the prime of their health. So if anybody can endure these moments of tension, lower oxygen and other physical challenges, it's going to be young teenage boys.

BLACKWELL: All right. Dr. Darria Long Gillespie with University of Tennessee School of Medicine, thank you so much for helping us understand the physical, psychological, emotional challenges of the boys, their coach and of these rescuers.

GALLAGHER: Well, meanwhile, rescue teams, of course, as we've said all morning, they are up against the weather. Not just the difficult caves, but the heavy rains that have already begun. Monsoon-level rains expected to intensify over the next week.

CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar has been keeping us updated all morning on really a situation that only looks to only be getting worse in terms of rain.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And it is because we're starting to see that moisture come back and it's only going to be more frequent as we come in the next coming days.

Here's a look at the map. So, this is Thailand right here. The cave in question, that's on the northern tier of Thailand, notice all of these colors coming back in, the reds and oranges indicating the moisture that's returning to this area. And at times, it's getting torrential downpours, as we've seen off an on for some of our reporters here.

And you can see that poor visibility, and coming down from a lot of the very heavy rain. Rain is going to stay in the forecast. Not just the rest of the day Sunday, but also Monday and Tuesday, looking at 80 to 90 percent chances of rain. And really it extends beyond that, the next five to seven days, truly.

But when you look at the extended forecast, look at this, rain is expected every single day. But it's next week when we start to finally to see a jump in the total number of precipitation that would be coming back in. And that's going to be a concern, because as of right now, they are still able to pump more water going out than is coming in. But as those rain amounts go up, that may change.

So, again, we are dealing with that very narrow window here in which they need to get those boys out. In addition to the water going into the cave, obviously blocking pathways for them to get to the boys, you also have the other concern: oxygen, because that water, it fills those passageways, it also blocks the air supply, because normally air would flow freely through some of those passages, but now it cannot because those passages are now blocked by the water.

[08:15:07] The latest number we have is 15 percent. That's the oxygen level they're dealing with inside that cave. Twenty-one, just for reference, is the normal range. They don't want it to get too much lower than it already is, because even at 15 percent, you're dealing with impaired coordination. Then it starts to begin your perception, your judgment, and then obviously at some point, less than 8 percent, it can become fatal.

So, again, Victor and Dianne, the key thing here is they need to get those boys out safely but in a timely fashion before the oxygen levels get too low and the water inside gets too high.

BLACKWELL: An impaired coordination at 15 percent is obviously the last thing, the last challenge you want right now.

We've got these pictures from just outside. This is a road that leads to that cave, and you see the flashing lights there. Another ambulance headed near there. Someone can tell me if this is the road headed up to that entrance of the cave. It is. Thank you very much.

So, this is the second time now we've seen an ambulance near that site. Of course, we are waiting for the latest news from the governor who has been giving most of the information about the condition of the boys and progress of the mission.

GALLAGHER: Of the mission there, yes. We are, again, a little more than nine hours into this mission. Stay with us. We are going to bring you the latest from Thailand just after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:20:18] BLACKWELL: Back to Chiang Rai here, and this is the road that leads to the entrance of that cave, and you see here an ambulance that's headed, lights flashing, to get closer to that cave. Now, we do not have confirmation about the progress of the mission to rescue those 12 boys and their coach, but we're into almost the night of the half hour point of this, as we're told by the governor of Chiang Rai. It started 10:00 p.m. last night.

GALLAGHER: Yes, so essentially, just in case, we've got 12 boys inside there and their coach, a 25-year-old soccer coach. The boys range in age from 11 to 16 years old. They have been in that cave since June 23rd.

On July 2nd, a pair of British divers actually located them. They are about half a mile below the surface when they were able to, and that has added to that complex rescue mission, trying to get into these narrow passages.

CNN's David McKenzie is live at that cave site there.

David, this has been a very fluid morning. A lot of different things going on -- a lot of hurry up and wait as well. What's the latest from where you are?

MCKENZIE: Well, the latest is this operation is ongoing, and those ambulances suggest a lot of movement and possibly significant developments in the story. But we wanted to get that information ironclad before we bring it to you, because so much is at stake here.

There is the following going to happen in the coming hours. In fact, if some of the boys have been removed, then it would be ahead of schedule. But they will be taken out of that cave tended to by medics which the governor says has been training for days to get this exactly right, and then taken by either road or helicopter to the nearby hospital where a team of doctors and other personnel are waiting to tend to them. Once and if the first boys get out of that cave where they've been stuck for all of these days, there will still be an agonizing wait that could take days, according to officials here, for the rest of them to be free.

And, you know, time and again I've spoken to specialist divers on the scene here who have said that this is something that has never been undertaken before. That incredibly arduous trip for the young boys, 11 to 16, and their coach through tight passages, and then to get them out one by one because of the nature of the technical diving that is being undertaken, and out to their families. It's really captured the world's imagination, and it's ultimately the parents that are wanting to know just if they're safe.

BLACKWELL: The world's imagination, yes, but you appropriately say there is so much at stake. Remind us of what the classmates of these boys have been doing since they've been in that cave. There have been monks who have been praying outside the cave. Give us an idea of how the entire country has been focused on what's happening there.

MCKENZIE: Well, that's right, the country and the world and communities and schools that we visited over the past few days and before, they've been setting up shrines to the boys, they've been giving Buddhist prayers. They've been making origami birds. One counselor made the kids or asked the kids to make 100 origami birds.

A young friend of one of the boys said the first thing they'll want to do is play soccer. The boys, if they get out, will in time be invited to the soccer World Cup, say officials. They've had messages from celebrities and soccer stars from the king of Thailand, revered figure here in the country, and it really has pulled this community, this border community, together -- Victor, Dianne.

GALLAGHER: And, David, their friends, their community, the world watching, but those parents, you've spoken to those parents. You've been able to sort of absorb the emotion that they have been talking to you about not knowing and then hoping and waiting and holding vigil that their children will come out of these caves.

What are the parents doing at this point? Do they have them waiting in a specific area just in case?

MCKENZIE: Well, they have been waiting for a long time, kept separate from the press most of the time on the area of the mountain that is now shrouded in darkness behind me. They were kept waiting and they were able to get messages.

[08:25:04] You know, it just describes how difficult this entire operation has been, that they fail to even get a phone line to the kids to speak directly with them. But they were able to share these handwritten notes in Thai on scraps of paper. The boys jointly saying, you know, don't give us too much homework when we get out, and please, we want all types of food, and this area famous for its excellent food.

And the parents writing back, and most touchingly, perhaps, telling the coach, you know, this is not your fault. You shouldn't feel responsible, and we are glad that you have kept those boys calm through all those days of darkness and no food before the rescuers managed to reach them.

GALLAGHER: David McKenzie, thank you so much. Please stay close because we're going to be checking back in with you as information comes in.

Anmar Mirza, who is cave expert and national coordinator for the National Cave Rescue Commission spoke to CNN a short time ago.

BLACKWELL: Here's what he said about his experience given the conditions, and what we've all talked about today is how difficult this rescue mission is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANMAR MIRZA, U.S. NATIONAL CAVE RESCUE COMMISSION (via telephone): The water level being lower makes the diving and extrication easier and a little safer, but that's a relatively safety and still very dangerous. But when the only alternative is to leave them in place and before we did not know if leaving them in place would be feasible. What they are finding it's less and less desirable option based on the logistics of trying to supply them and the fact that the air is getting stale and the oxygen levels are dropping and the carbon dioxide levels are rising. So, it's the lesser of evils.

And I've said many times, it is -- there were no easy choices or good choices. I trust that the divers who were working with the kids and training them have made the decision that it is at least worth the attempt to try. I know several of the people who are there are just top-notch and they are very good at what they do and if anybody could bring them through, it would be those people.

When I first heard they were alive, I was, of course, glad that they were alive, I mean, that's certainly excellent news, but as somebody who has done many cave rescues, I knew that the worst and the hardest part of it had actually just started to begin because now, it increased the pressure and increased the timeline that they had to deal with.

I'm glad they did not have to deal with a body recovery or body recoveries, but if they had to do that, the time, pressure on the rescuers would have been much different. Now that we are trying to get them out alive, it certainly, a hundred-fold worse. If they're not bringing them out in the same way that they might come out, they will just continue to go. They will start from where the boys are. They will bring them out in stages and they will have to allow them to rest at various places and have to actually transport them through some of the places.

You have to remember, these boys are still very weak from their ordeal. You do not recover from starvation and they had nine or ten days of starvation, you don't recover from that in a few days. It's many weeks to months before you got significant percentage of your original strength back, so you can't take the boys out in five or six hours it might take for a highly skilled and highly trained person to do.

The first one that gets out will be kind of the test of this to see what kind of difficulties they will face and if they get the first one out alive, the odds are better for the following ones, simply from that fact that they have learned what's going on with that, they have a better idea of what they are dealing with, and, of course, there is still no guarantee. I'm very hopeful that they get them all out alive, but I'm also prepared for some bad news for this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: He was prepared for bad news, but if you look at the bottom of your screen there, some good news. A member of the rescue team stationed at the entrance of the cave witnessed three boys evacuated out of that cave.

We've got live pictures here. It's nightfall there in Chiang Rai, but you can see helicopter blades. And we know that --

GALLAGHER: We've seen ambulances.

BLACKWELL: Ambulances, we saw those. We know that the boys, once they are taken out of the cave, will be put onto the helicopters, flown 35 miles to a hospital, and that's where they will be checked out.

GALLAGHER: And this is after the medical teams that are stationed at the mouth of the cave there, they have basically this setup to where doctors can examine them immediately to discern whether or not they can withstand that helicopter ride.

So, whether or not those three boys coming out, it does look like this helicopter there getting ready potentially to take off from this video.

[08:29:54]

The medical team, then, would have -- if it's going the way it was designed would have already been able to examine the child that was put in there.

Now we are being told that our David McKenzie is back with us now from near the cave.

And David -- this is the best news that at least three of those parents could have hoped for at this point from that eyewitness saying that three of them have emerged from the cave, seeing those ambulances and helicopter now -- David.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. Three of those boys, we believe, according to this eyewitness who is a member of the overall rescue team stationed at the entrance saw them emerge from the cave.

So that is excellent news. We don't know the state of health that they are in. And it's even ahead of schedule compared to what the authorities had believed earlier today. But it means that there is a major -- not glimmer of hope, a ray of hope for those parents for at least three sets of parents most likely, that the boys have possibly started coming out. Well, we know they started coming out, according to that eyewitness.

BLACKWELL: Yes. David -- when you consider that the governor said at the start of this mission that it could take about three days, and what we know about the forecast. When we realize that the rain would start soon -- it actually had started earlier today -- three days seemed like too long to get all of these boys out, if it indeed took that long.

MCKENZIE: Well, it's already been an agonizing wait. If they can get them out quicker, I am sure they will do it. But I kind of just want to pause for a second and just think about this moment. Because you've had these British divers go with these Thai navy specialists into some of the most hazardous water that you can imagine. According to our eyewitness, they've successfully managed to get three of these boys out of that cave system. Of course, we have to wait to see the state of health that those boys are in.

But at this stage, even contemplating the fact that they can successfully pull this extraordinary rescue operation off, at least at this stage, is pretty amazing. And the best of the best are here, and they could be giving that incredible news to their parents right now.

The boys, as they exit the cave, will be sent either by road or by helicopter, we believe, to a nearby hospital in Chiang Rai where they will be getting medical attention. And this is just a huge test of human ingenuity and human spirit.

As you've been reporting, Victor and Dianne -- the boys had to decide for themselves who was going to go first, who would submerge into those dark waters and go through that dark chamber to an uncertain future.

They've been there for more than two weeks sustained on very basic food and water, kept their spirits up by their coach and rescuers that they had to even remove because oxygen levels are so low.

But now we're at that stage that three are out. The rest of them -- they want to get all of them out, of course, and they will be working tirelessly I know to do that.

GALLAGHER: And David -- as you were speaking there, we were seeing video of what appeared to be ambulances. They're arriving at that hospital, again at least taking the moment in on how flawlessly, at least at this point, it appears to have unfolded, finishing up at least with these first boys that are out.

Again, we do not know the condition of these three boys that the rescue team members saw emerge from this cave. But the fact that they have now arrived -- that we've seen something at this hospital, we've seen helicopters leaving, it does appear that the plan has gone into motion. But it was quicker than we were expecting.

BLACKWELL: If you think about where they started -- 13 people, 12 of them boys 11 to 16 with a 25-year-old coach in a cave, in the dark --

GALLAGHER: And in the rain.

BLACKWELL: -- for most of the past period --

GALLAGHER: Again.

BLACKWELL: -- with just the food and water they took in with them, and then found by these two British divers. And then this massive international plan to rescue them began.

And how do you get these boys, some of whom cannot swim 00

GALLAGHER: Exactly.

BLACKWELL: -- who have never been in the water this deep, right? We're talking dozens of feet deep. They're not experienced divers. To get them out of this cave, and to do it ahead of schedule, three boys evacuated. It is miraculous.

GALLAGHER: Victor, I have for you right now -- AFP is reporting at this point four boys will walk out of the cave soon. I'm reading at this point four boys have reached the rescue base camp inside the complex. They are going to walk out. The country's defense ministry spokesman told AFP four boys have reached chamber three and they will walk out of the cave shortly.

[08:35:03] Referring -- this is the area, of course where the rescue workers have set up their base. So we're hearing now four boys to walk out of that cave soon. Again, I just cannot comprehend --

BLACKWELL: They were supposed to --

GALLAGHER: -- what's happening at this point.

BLACKWELL: -- and what we were told is that they would be carried out on stretchers.

GALLAGHER: Yes.

BLACKWELL: And to have them come out alive is amazing. But to now see them walk out is phenomenal.

GALLAGHER: And we have done nothing -- but we have done nothing but illustrate basically how the odds were so stacked against all of them --

BLACKWELL: Yes.

GALLAGHER: -- how difficult this mission is. The fact that a retired Navy SEAL from the Thai navy died trying to sort of do these dry runs and bring supplies to them, he ran out of oxygen. The stakes could not be higher.

It's such a cliche, but it was so difficult for them to get through these tiny -- and some areas just 15 inches for them to try and squeeze through, having to remove tanks.

And they have done nothing but pump out water -- this amazing international effort of people from all over the world. These skilled, as one of the divers said, the best of the best coming together and working to get these boys out of there. To hear that four boys may walk out of the cave is --

BLACKWELL: We do know that these four boys, according to the Agence France-Presse, will be walking out of this cave. We do not know the full picture of their health.

GALLAGHER: Yes.

BLACKWELL: They will be headed to the hospital.

Our Matt Rivers is there. We will go live to that hospital after a quick break.

Stay with us.

[08:36:32] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: Live pictures here. This is near the cave where AFP is reporting that four boys are going to soon walk out of this cave. Their source is the country's defense minister spokesman, told AFP. Of course these are four of the 12 boys and their coach who have been trapped in this cave.

Now minutes ago, we reported that a witness -- that there were three boys who were evacuated from that cave. What we do not know is if those three are part of the four, right. So let's be clear there. I don't want anyone put together seven boys have come out. We know that four boys, according to the defense minister speaking to AFP, are expected to walk out of this cave soon.

We've got live pictures now of the hospital about 35 miles away. We know that these boys are going to be sent there for the obvious medical follow-up that's necessary.

GALLAGHER: Yes.

BLACKWELL: They've been in this cave in the dark for 15 days.

GALLAGHER: We actually have our David McKenzie who has been following this story for days with us now all morning long bringing us those updates. David joining us from Thailand near that cave.

And David -- just run through with us what's going on right now.

MCKENZIE: Well, what's going on is this extraordinary rescue operation which is still very much in progress. This could take hours yet. And though there is, of course, this euphoria at the news from our eyewitness that three boys were taken out, we don't yet know what sort of health state they are in. Also that news that you described that four, according to AFP from an official source, either the same or different boys also out, or will be out soon.

But that's truly significant; however it's worth remembering the agonizing wait for the parents. A few days ago they said that the strongest boys would likely make the attempt first. So the risk levels, if they stick with that plan that was mandated by the doctors' assessment, that, you know, the weaker boys will come later.

Because not through any kind of harshness, they had to test whether they can even complete this extraordinary journey, and the best way to do that is with the strongest kids. It's amazing that any of them have the physical strength and the wherewithal to get out of that cave system given this horrifying experience that they've gone through. BLACKWELL: So, obviously, the most sensitive of the rescues are still

to come. Not to suggest that any of this has been easy, but when we know that the strongest boys were coming out first, the weakest boys would be left for the latter part of the mission -- that suggests that there's still a lot of work to do.

GALLAGHER: Exactly.

BLACKWELL: Talk about, if you would, the oxygen levels. Because with these increased numbers of people who are coming into this chamber where the boys and their coach have been held, that would of course use more oxygen. And the amount is depleting and has been for some time now.

MCKENZIE: Well, that's right, you know. If the oxygen levels, Victor -- drop below certain levels, you could have symptoms of hypoxia and similar ailments. Almost like you're climbing a very high mountain, you know, you have that thin air, the lack of oxygen. It causes very bad health effects in the short and the long term.

That's one of the reason they removed a lot of those rescue workers from the area and that they made this desperate effort to get oxygen into that cavern with them. You know, even that Thai navy -- former navy rescue diver who died, his role was to get oxygen in there and then come out.

And it also shows you just what the Thai navy has sacrificed for these boys already. You had earlier on Facebook this picture posted by the Thai navy which shows the interlocking arms -- the international effort of American, British, Chinese, Australian, military divers joining up with the specialist British cave divers who have been, in some ways, leading this effort to get these boys out.

[08:45:03] That they even attempted this is extraordinary, and it was a very difficult decision to even pull the trigger on this operation. The last few days you could really sense the authorities struggling with when to start this operation.

They had this window with the rain that is actually lightly falling on my head now, and the monsoon coming that could flood back into that cave at any moment. They had to wait to the last possible moment to get as much water as they could through the pump system they had developed to get it out so they had the best chance of getting those boys out, and they just had to make that brave call.

At this stage, at this early stage I must say, it seems perhaps it was the right call.

GALLAGHER: David McKenzie, thank you so much. Stay close with us. We're going to check back in with you.

You guys are looking at live pictures right now out of Thailand as we wait more information on this incredible rescue.

When we come back from break, we'll talk about what the impact is on these kids. BLACKWELL: Yes. We see on the left side of the screen this is Mae Sai where the hospital is where these boys and the coach will be taken. What physical, psychological, emotional scars could be still remaining after this 15-day ordeal?

Stay with us. The breaking news coverage continues in a moment.

[08:46:21] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: All right. Breaking news here -- this video from CNN's Thai affiliate Spring News is reporting that according to a military source, you see here, at least one boy has been transported on this helicopter to a hospital. We know that, of course, these boys have to be checked out after what's been going on for the last 15 days.

Live pictures now. We have got a picture here. This is of the helicopter that just landed -- give me that again?

So this helicopter just landed after transporting, as we're told, at least one boy from that cave. They'll be headed in where they'll be checked out for any severe -- and even a minor -- effects of this cave ordeal.

GALLAGHER: Yes, they've been in the cave for 15 days.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

GALLAGHER: And we've also seen, of course, several ambulances as well leave from the cave area. We've seen some ambulances arrive at the hospital that was put in place in their plan that they would be brought to.

Now, we do not know if, in fact, the boys are inside those ambulances. We can only sort of loosely connect the dots on that. A witness with a rescue team did tell us that they saw three boys emerge from that cave, but we cannot confirm that in fact that the boys were on those ambulances. We did though see them come in and leave that facility.

BLACKWELL: All right. So we -- it appears if you look at the -- we can't drop that banner, that's from Spring News -- but on the right of your screen near the helicopter, you see a lot of activity there. I can't discern or decipher if there is a gurney that's being moved at all or if any of those were any of the boys there.

But we are seeing some activity there near this helicopter that just landed. This is, of course, to transport the boys to the hospital.

I want to also make sure that we temper expectation, because as one of the sources near the hospital -- or near the cave told us that they've seen three boys who are evacuated.

Let's bring in David McKenzie as part of this conversation. The strongest boys, we know, David -- were to be brought out first. So let's not go through a point where we expect that this will be the speed that all of those inside the cave will be brought out.

(CROSSTALK)

MCKENZIE: Well, that's right. That was the original plan. But as we have been reporting earlier today, it was up to ultimately the boys to decide, in conjunction with the doctor deep in that cavern in the mountain, which is now shrouded in darkness behind me, to come up with the plan of who to go first.

Originally they've said it should be the strongest to test the system. But the boys could have come up with another plan. Now, you must remember, these are all boys who know each other pretty well. They're in a soccer team together. That camaraderie, say experts I've talked to over the last few days, have been critical at keeping their spirits up.

They've managed to get those messages to their parents. And just envision how they actually did it. They had to write them notes on a scrap of paper which would have been folded up, put in a sealed container or plastic bag of some kind, strapped to a world specialist diver, dived out of that tunnel and then out into the outside world to hand to the parents who then wrote a letter back.

But those kind of small gestures would have been incredibly important to keeping their spirits up through this ordeal. And as we've been reporting from our eyewitnesses, affiliates and from agencies, there is definite activity of boys leaving that cave. We don't know their health, how their health is at this point. That will be a critical thing to check.

What do they want to do once they're out and they're relatively healthy? Number one thing -- they want to eat food, all kinds of food. They've been stuck in there for days without proper nutrition.

They've been hunkered down probably not fully aware of the extraordinary level of international support and rescue effort they're getting.

[08:55:02] But they're young kids. They just want to get out, see their families and have the basic good things in life.

BLACKWELL: We see here another ambulance that is leaving that scene, we would assume, headed to the hospital potentially with another boy.

GALLAGHER: David McKenzie -- thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: Excellent news this morning.

GALLAGHER: Yes. This is really not the news that we were expecting to deliver, at least this early this morning this morning.

Again -- 12 boys, one coach inside that cave for 15 nights. An eyewitness says they've seen at least three boys evacuated from that cave.

As you pointed out, Victor, we were told the strongest would be brought out first so we still have a long way to go.

BLACKWELL: And they are understanding that they have to get this done now because the rains are coming.

GALLAGHER: Yes.

BLACKWELL: Now, we're not talking inches of rain potentially, but when you're on a mountain and it's coming downhill and going into a cave, it can certainly create more problems. We'll continue the breaking news coverage throughout the day. Thank you for watching this morning.

GALLAGHER: Stay with us. Dana Bash on "STATE OF THE UNION" is right after the break.

[08:56:02] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)