Elite divers have rescued four of 12 young soccer players and their coach who have been trapped in a flooded cave complex in northern Thailand for more than two weeks, Thai officials said.
Two boys separately emerged from Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai province between 5:30pm and 6pm local time. Each were accompanied by rescue divers. Two more were following close behind, the government said.
The first two were driven in ambulances to waiting helicopters which would fly them to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital in Chiang Rai, according to local television reports.
Thai television is now reporting that a further TWO have passed the underwater ‘danger zone’ and are in the safe Chamber 3 where rescue teams set up base camp.
Meaning SIX in total are now outside the flooded parts of the cave.
All six have been declared healthy and safe by Thai sources.
One of the first boys to emerge from the labyrinthine cave network was Mongkol Boonpiem, 13, according to sources.
The boys, from the “Wild Boars” team that has been stuck in a cramped chamber several kilometres inside the Tham Luang cave complex since June 23, emerged Sunday night after a dangerous mission to extract the group began earlier in the day.
Rescuers said it could take up to four days for the entire team to reach safety, depending on conditions inside the cave.
The mission was launched on Sunday morning because floodwaters inside the cave were at their lowest level in days and rains forecast to hit the region risk flooding the cave again.
Thirteen foreign divers and five members of Thailand’s elite navy Seal unit have been tasked with bringing the boys – some as young as 11 and weak swimmers – through narrow, submerged passageways that claimed the life of a former Thai navy diver on Friday.
Authorities have said it takes roughly 11 hours to do a round-trip from the cave entrance to where the boys are huddled on a muddy bank.
This tallies with previous estimates from officials that it would take the divers five hours to reach the ledge where the team is trapped, and six hours for the journey out.
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 Osottanakorn, head of the rescue mission, said two divers would escort each of the boys out of the cave.