First four rescued from cave

The head of the rescue operation to evacuate 12 boys and their coach from Tham Luang cave on Sunday said the operation had been successful so far, but the task will not be completed until the last person arrives at the cave entrance.

Narongsak Osotthanakorn confirmed during a press briefing that four of the stranded party had been rescued and sent to Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital.

"The operation today (Sunday) was more successful than we earlier expected," he said.

He said the next phase of the operation will resume in between 10 and 20 hours - probably late Monday morning or afternoon - as rescuers have to replace empty compressed air tanks and perform other maintenance on the rescue system.

"Today was the best situation - in terms of the children's health, water and our rescue readiness," said Mr Narongsak, now governor of Phayao province but still head of the joint command centre coordinating the rescue.

"Four have been brought out from the cave site. Four have been rescued. We consider that a great success."

He said the operation, which was launched Sunday at 10am, had proceeded hours faster than expected. "It has been our masterpiece work," he said.

"Our job is not completely done," he added. "We will have to do the next mission as successfully as the one we did today. The rest of the kids are in the same spot."

The remaining nine are still at the location where divers had found them about 500 metres from the so-called Pattaya beach. All four of those rescued on Sunday were safe, he said.

The Thai Navy Seals said in a Facebook post just before 10pm Sunday, "Tonight, we can sleep well", as the Day 1 rescue operation came to a close. "Hooyah," the post concludes, in the tradition of the Marines.

The four were airlifted by helicopter to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital in Muang district.

The third boy came out of the cave at 7.15pm, sources in the operation said, adding three others had reached Chamber 3 and they were being assessed on their health conditions before rescuers took them out of the cave.

The Royal Thai Navy Seal confirmed later that three had been safely escorted out of the flooded cave. It added later that the fourth was brought out of the cave at 7.47pm.

The remaining nine will follow during the final stage of the week-long operation after rescuers decided on Sunday to bring the 13 out at 10am due to concerns that more rainfall could send more water into the cave. Rescuers earlier expected the first arrivals at the cave entrance at about 9pm.

All are members of the Mu Pa Academy Mae Sai football club. Twelve young footballers and their coach entered the cave on June 23 and floodwater blocked their return, leading to one of the largest rescue operations in the history of the country.

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Writer: Gary Boyle
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