4 rescued from Thailand cave as rescue operation underway

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MAE SAI: Rescuers in northern Thailand on Sunday extracted at least four members of a youth soccer team from the cave where they had been trapped for more than two weeks, part of an ongoing operation to rescue the 12 boys and their coach, officials said.

The operation to rescue the boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach by having them dive out of the flooded cave began Sunday morning, with expert divers entering the sprawling complex for the complicated and dangerous mission.

Shortly before 8 p.m., the Thai navy SEALs reported on their official Facebook page that four had been rescued.

Helicopters and several ambulances were seen departing from the cave area, though there was no official announcement of whom they were carrying. Officials had said earlier that helicopters were on standby to take anyone rescued from Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai province to a hospital.

Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, who is heading the operation, said that 13 foreign and five Thai divers were taking part in the rescue and that two divers would accompany each boy as they’re gradually extracted.

“Divers will work with doctors in the cave to examine each the kids’ health to determine who should get to come out first,” Narongsak said Sunday morning.

The entire operation to rescue all 13 could last two to four days, depending on weather and water conditions, said army Maj. Gen. Chalongchai Chaiyakam.

The only way to bring the boys and their coach out of the cave is by navigating dark and tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents, as well as oxygen-depleted air. A former Thai navy SEAL passed out and died making the dive Friday.

Experienced cave rescue experts consider an underwater escape a last resort, especially with people untrained in diving, as the boys are. The path out is considered especially complicated because of twists and turns in narrow flooded passages.