Four boys rescued from flooded Thai cave

Four boys rescued from flooded Thai cave

Four boys rescued from flooded Thai cave

A girl shows a collage of pictures before relatives and friends begin prayers for the 12 schoolboys and their soccer coach trapped inside a flooded cave, at Mesai Grace Church in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Four boys out of 12 trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand with their soccer coach have been freed as part of an ongoing rescue mission that started Sunday after the group was initially found July 2-about a week after the search for them began.

In a statement released late Sunday afternoon, Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn says "divers will work with medics in the cave to assess the boys' health before determining who will come out first".

Thai authorities are being tight-lipped about who was inside an ambulance seen leaving the site of a flooded cave Monday, as they were the night before when four of the 13 people trapped inside the underground complex were rescued.

As of Monday morning, nine people remained trapped in the cave, including the 12-member team's coach, after four boys were rescued on Sunday, the first day of the rescue operation.

The boys separately emerged from Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai Province between 5:30 pm and 6 pm local time.

Monsoon flooding cut off their escape route and prevented rescuers from finding them for nearly 10 days.

He told reporters that four boys were brought out and taken to the hospital in the town of Chiang Rai, the provincial capital, for evaluation, and the next phase of the operation will resume after about 10-20 hours.

"Six of them came out", a defence ministry official, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

The only way to bring them out is by navigating dark and tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents, as well as oxygen-depleted air.

"The hole is really small, I have to take off my air tank to crawl through it", a 25-year-old Thai Navy Seal told Reuters before the rescue attempt. The governor recently said that water levels were at their lowest.

The rescue teams now need at least 10 hours to prepare for their next phase of the operation, involving about 90 divers in all, 50 of them from foreign countries, he said. Having completed this section, the boys are then handed over to separate, specialist rescue teams, who help assist them through the remainder of the cave, much of which they can wade through.

The operation paused Sunday evening so that rescue teams could refresh the supply of oxygen tanks that have been placed along the escape route inside the cave, Narongsak said. He has also thanked global experts who helped find the boys. For the last several days, crews have been trying to drain enough water out of the cave to make the rescue easier.

As night fell, the operation to rescue the remaining eight boys - some as young as 11 and weak swimmers - and their coach was called off until today.

Applause erupted as Mr Narongsak said he had met the children and their health is "perfect". The team is huddled in an enclosed area of the cave, in which oxygen levels are falling, and the incoming rain could end up shrinking the unflooded space to around 100 square feet.

The rescue of the first four boys had brought joy and relief to the families and friends of the 13, with one school friend of some of the boys telling media that he is very happy and thanking the rescue team for bringing his friends out.

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