FOUR of the boys who were trapped in a flooded Thai cave system for two weeks have made it to safety after a perilous journey, but nine people remain underground.
The first two emerged from Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand at 5.40pm and 5.50pm Sunday local time (8.40pm and 8.50pm AEST), less than eight hours after the rescue began at 10am.
The third and fourth boy came out at 7.40pm and 7.50pm.
The divers hugged the young soccer players after helping them escape the dank, dark cave complex.
The boys received treatment at the scene before they were evacuated to hospital in Chiang Rai province by ambulance and helicopter.
Officials said on Sunday night that the extraordinary operation would now pause for ten to 20 hours to assess next steps, check equipment and refill oxygen tanks stationed along the dangerous route.
The first boy to emerge was named by local media as Mongkol Boonpium, 13, and the second as Prachuck Sutham, 14, but Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osattanakorn would not confirm who had been rescued.
He said a doctor had determined the order of evacuations, with the strongest leaving first.
The 12 schoolboys, aged 11 to 16, were trapped in the cave by floodwaters on June 23, after apparently entering to scratch their names on a cave wall as part of an initiation rite.
Eight of the boys and their soccer coach, 25, remain there, with torrential rain pouring down on the town of Mae Sai making their rescue ever more challenging.
“Today was the best situation in terms of kids’ health, water and our rescue readiness,” said Mr Narongsak in a press conference on Sunday evening.
“Four have been rescued. We consider that a great success.”
He said the operation had been executed hours earlier than expected, but warned the dangerous rescue was far from over.
“Our job is not completely done. 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.
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