MAE SAI, Thailand (AP) - An operation to rescue the 12 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. Thai navy SEALs say rescuers have taken four members of a youth soccer team out of the cave where they had been trapped for more than two weeks, since June 23.
Chiang Rai province 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. He said it will take at least 11 hours for the first person to be taken out of the cave. In a statement released late Sunday afternoon, Osatanakorn says "divers will work with medics in the cave to assess the boys' health before determining who will come out first." He added: "They cannot decide how many of them will be able to come out for the first operation. Based on the complexity and difficulty of the cave environment it is unknown how long it might take and how many children would exit the cave."
The operation began at 10 a.m. local time. Shortly before 8 p.m. local time, the SEALs reported on their official Facebook page that four had been rescued.
Two ambulances left from the cave in northern Thailand. The ambulances were seen Sunday evening, but it was unclear who was inside them.
The boys and their coach became stranded when they went exploring in the cave after a practice game June 23. Monsoon flooding cut off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for almost 10 days.
The Thai navy SEALs, who have been spearheading the rescue effort for the 12 boys and their soccer coach, have posted a photo on their Facebook page with a vow to bring the trapped team home from a flooded cave.
The unit says in a message: "We, the Thai team and the international team, will bring the Wild Boars home." That's the name of the young boys' team.
Rescuers say it may take 2-4 days for the entire team to reach safety, depending on conditions inside the cave.
The local governor in charge of the rescue says the mission was launched Sunday morning because floodwaters inside the cave are at their lowest level in days and rains forecast to hit the region risk flooding the cave again.
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