Boys Freed From Thailand Cave as Rescue Mission Begins

Rescue personnel arrive as rescue operations continue for 12 boys and their coach trapped at Tham Luang cave at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province

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.

An Australian doctor's triaging of 12 boys trapped in a cave in northern Thailand may have led to the rescue of four of the weakest children first.

Local authorities in Thailand have confirmed that the rescue operation has begun in the northern cave system.

According to Chiang Rai provincial acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, the healthiest of the boys were removed first. Narongsak said the healthiest have been taken out first, and the next phase of the operation would start in 10-20 hours. That effort appears to be ahead of schedule.

A Thai Navy SEAL commander told reporters he believed there was "a limited amount of time" left to rescue the team, who wandered into the caves on June 23 after soccer practice.

Thirteen foreign and five Thai divers are taking part in the rescue operation.

The ongoing rescue could take two to four days in all depending on conditions, according to the Associated Press.

The rescue teams had rehearsed the plan for several days, Narongsak said, and had managed to drain the water level in the cave considerably, but needed to move fast.

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David Strike has known Dr Harris for more than 10 years, and says his medical expertise and experience as a cave diver and retrieval expert is invaluable.

A former member of Thailand's SEAL unit died during a dive on Thursday night, a grim turn in what began two weeks ago as an outing to celebrate the birthday of one of the boys.

It's also understood the decision to ban the media, totalling about 1000, from the area around the cave entrance on Sunday was to facilitate faster ambulance access to the freeway to get the rescued boys to a football field where they could be taken by helicopter to the Chiang Rai hospital.

The group of boys along with their 25-year-old coach entered the cave on June 23, but became trapped due to unexpected rising water. They wore full-faced masks and hung on to divers' bodies on their way out, Narongsak said. With the rainy season approaching, it could have been months before another opportunity arose, local officials said. But that entails plenty of risks as well, as the water could go up before it goes down.

The unsafe and complicated plan unfolded amid heavy rain and the threat of rising water underground and looks set to hamper the next dive.

That along with dwindling oxygen levels added to the urgency of getting the team out. Officials had made efforts to extend a hose to the chamber where the 13 have been holed up but have reportedly not been able to do so.

Thai officials said Friday that oxygen levels inside the cave plummeted to a unsafe 15% - shy of the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration's "optimal range" of oxygen, which is between 19.5% and 23.5%. Normal air contains about 21 percent oxygen.

The boys, accompanied by two divers each, will be brought out one-by-one.

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