Thai officials confirm rescue underway, 18 divers making way through cave

Thai rescue teams arrange water pumping system at the entrance to a flooded cave complex where 12 boys and their soccer coach have been trapped since June 23 in Mae Sai Chiang Rai provin

Rescue operation begins for 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a cave in Thailand

Four of 12 Thai schoolboys were rescued from a flooded cave on Sunday in a daring and risky operation to save the children and their soccer coach who have been trapped underground for more than two weeks.

He told reporters the four rescued boys were taken to the hospital in the town of Chiang Rai, the provincial capital, for evaluation, and the next phase of the operation will resume after about 10-20 hours.

Four of the 12 boys trapped in a cave in northern Thailand have been safely rescued and taken to hospital, according to several news outlets.

"Six of them came out", a defence ministry official, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

Earlier, 13 foreign divers and four Navy Seals guided the boys - with an adult in front and behind each child - through the narrow and submerged passageways.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, leader of the military junta that seized power in 2014, planned to visit the cave site today, a government spokesman said.

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The rescue mission began on Sunday morning, almost a week since the 12 boys, aged 11-16, and their coach had been discovered on an embankment 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) inside the winding tunnels. Aged between 11 and 16 years, the boys were members of the Wild Boar soccer team.

Officials worked to supply the 12 boys and their coach with oxygen through a 3 mile (5 kilometer) cable running through the cave's winding chambers on Friday. "The operation went much better than expected, " said Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, who is overseeing the mission.

Divers had to hold the boys close to their bodies to bring them out and each had to wear an oxygen mask to enable normal breathing, authorities said.

They were trapped in the flooded cave for nine days before being found.

Narongsak said that there was no time limit on the rescue and that its progress would depend on weather and conditions inside the cave, but expected it to last through Monday. "Finding the boys doesn't mean we've finished our mission".

"I confirm that we are at war with water and time from the first day up to today", he said Saturday.

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AFPnews agency quotes an official saying four boys in Thai cave have reached a rescue camp, and will walk out of the cave soon. He found kindred spirits in the boys, many of whom had grown up poor or were stateless ethnic minorities, common in this border area between Myanmar and Thailand.

The mission reportedly paused due to depleted oxygen levels in the cave.

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Divers have previously described conditions in the cave network as some of the most extreme they have ever faced.

In one, Pheerapat, nicknamed "Night", whose 16th birthday the group were celebrating in the cave when they became stuck on June 23, said: "I love you, Dad, Mum and my sister".

One particularly touching note from another boy said: "I'm doing fine, but the air is a little cold, but don't worry".

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