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Four members of boys soccer team rescued from Thai cave they've been trapped in for 15 days

Rescuers officially began the hazardous operation to rescue the 12 trapped boys and their soccer coach this morning.

Thailand Cave Search Two ambulances leave the cave in northern Thailand some hours after the rescue operation began Source: Sakchai Lalit/AP

THE FIRST BOYS have emerged from the Thai cave where they had been trapped since 23 June, according to reports.

Four boys have now been rescued, according to a senior member of the rescue team who was speaking to Reuters. It was earlier reported that six had been released.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s defence ministry spokesperson said that at least four boys have been rescued, in conversation with AFP.

“Four boys have reached chamber three and will walk out of the cave shortly,” Lieutenant-General Kongcheep Tantrawanit said, referring to the area where rescue workers had set up a base.

Firm reports as to where the boys are, whether or not they have indeed emerged from the cave, are hard to come by at present.

The news, coming at 1pm Irish time, would place the rescue as running at least two hours ahead of its projected timeframe.

Some suggest that the rescued boys have now been moved to a military field hospital where their physical condition is being assessed.

Another report from the scene claims that flood waters in the cave complex have reduced to the extent that walking through it is possible in many places, which would indeed reduce the projected rescue time.

It’s believed that a plan was drawn up by medics in advance, with the weakest children thus the first to be brought clear of the complex.

“Two kids are out. They are currently at the field hospital near the cave,” Tossathep Boonthong, chief of Chiang Rai’s health department and a member of the rescue team, earlier told Reuters.

We are giving them a physical examination. They have not been moved to Chiang Rai hospital yet.

Earlier, elite divers began the extremely dangerous operation to extract 12 boys and their football coach who have been trapped in a flooded cave complex in northern Thailand for more than two weeks, as looming monsoon rains threatened the rescue effort.

The ‘Wild Boars’ team had been stuck in a cramped chamber several kilometres inside the Tham Luang cave complex since 23 June, when they went in after football practice and were hemmed in by rising waters.
UPI 20180707Members of the Royal Thai Navy are pictured as they prepare to rescue 12 schoolboys and their soccer coach from the Tham Luang Cave network in northern ThailandSource: UPI/PA Images
Their plight has transfixed Thailand and the rest of the world, as authorities have struggled to devise a plan to get the boys and their coach out through twisting, narrow and jagged passageways that in some places are completely flooded.

"Today is the D-day. The boys are ready to face any challenges," rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters near the cave site as weather forecasters warned of more monsoon rains late today that would cause more flooding in the cave.

Thailand Cave Search Narongsak Osatanakom, spokesman for the rescue effort, informing the media that the operation has begun today Source: AP/PA Images

Narongsak said the first boy was expected to be brought out of the cave by around 9:00 pm (3pm Irish time), meaning the trip would take around 11 hours.

The boys, aged from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were found dishevelled and hungry by British cave diving specialists nine days after they ventured in.

But initial euphoria over finding the boys alive quickly turned into deep anxiety as rescuers raced to find a way to get them out, with Narongsak at one point dubbing the effort 'Mission Impossible'.

The death of a former Thai Navy Seal diver who ran out of oxygen in the cave on Friday underscored the danger of the journey even for adept professionals.

Saman Kunan had been trying to establish an air line in a flooded area with oxygen tanks when he passed out and perished.

After a short deluge of rain last night and with more bad weather forecast, Narongsak today said authorities had to act immediately.

"There is no other day that we are more ready than today," he said. "Otherwise we will lose the opportunity."

Thailand Cave Search Undated photo released via the Thai Navy SEAL Facebook page. Thai and international teams have joined forces to save the trapped youngsters. Source: AP/PA Images

Between the operating base manned by Thai Navy SEALs inside the cave and the trapped boys are twisting, turning cave passageways with torrents of water gushing through.

The water in the cave is muddy and unclear, with one diver comparing it to a cafe latte. Ropes have been installed to help guide the boys through the darkness.

Narongsak said today that two divers would accompany each of the boys out of the cave.

Rescue efforts

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.

More than 100 exploratory holes had also been bored - some shallow, but the longest 400 metres deep - into the mountainside in an attempt to open a second evacuation route and avoid forcing the boys into the dangerous dive.

Yesterday, Thai Navy SEALS published touching notes scrawled by the trapped footballers to their families, who had been waiting for them agonisingly close by outside the cave entrance.

The boys urged relatives "not to worry" and asked for their favourite food once they were safely evacuated, in notes handed to divers.

In one, Pheerapat, nicknamed 'Night', whose 16th birthday the group were celebrating in the cave when they became stuck on 23 June, said: "I love you, Dad, Mum and my sister. You don't need to be worried about me."

The coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, who many Thais have criticised for leading the boys into the cave, also apologised.

"To all the parents, all the kids are still fine. I promise to take the very best care of the kids," he said in a note given to divers on Friday.

Thank you for all the moral support and I apologise to the parents.

Additional reporting © – AFP, 2018

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