Expert divers Sunday rescued four of 12 boys from a flooded cave in northern Thailand where they were trapped with their soccer coach for more than two weeks, as a risky and complicated plan unfolded amid heavy rain and the threat of rising water underground.
Officials said Saturday they were aiming to rescue the boys before seasonal monsoon rains hit, which could flood the caves.
The boys, ages 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach became stranded when they went exploring in the cave after a practice game. "The boys are ready to face any challenges", rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters near the cave site on Sunday morning.
The rescue will resume after authorities assess conditions in the cave, get a briefing on the initial rescues and replenish the oxygen tanks, Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said at a press conference. The boys would then walk from Chamber 3 to the mouth of the cave, which has been mostly drained over the last few days of the rescue operation.
The rescue got off to a good start, with the first boy coming out at 5.40pm local time (11.40am United Kingdom time). The earliest divers will emerge is 9pm on Sunday (10pm WST), but a Thai official says the rescue of all the boys could take up to four days.
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According to a document released by the Thai authorities, two divers will accompany each of the teenagers.
Several methods of rescuing the boys and coach were considered, but reports of diminishing oxygen levels in the part of the cave where they were trapped increased the urgency of their extraction.
But initial euphoria over finding them alive quickly turned into deep anxiety as rescuers struggled to find a way to get the footballers out of the flooded cave complex.
During the briefing, he said, "Today was the best situation - in terms of kids' health, water, and our rescue readiness".
Meanwhile, efforts are on to save the children from the caverns as rain water has filled the rescue route.
"Don't be anxious, I miss everyone".