Four boys were safely brought out Sunday night from a cave in northern Thailand where they and eight other members of a youth soccer team and their coach have been stranded for over two weeks, Thai navy SEALs in charge of the extraction said.
Phayao Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn said at a news conference that the rescue operation will restart in more than 10 hours after reinstalling air tanks.
"Today's operation was very smooth, faster than expected," Narongsak said. "The mission will continue for the remaining boys as soon as possible."
The fourth boy left Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai Province shortly before 8 p.m. local time, the Thai navy SEALs Facebook page announced.
Local media and military sources earlier said that five boys had exited the cave. Other reports said that a sixth boy was about to emerge or may already have done so.
The boys were transported by ambulances to waiting helicopters to be flown to a hospital in Chiang Rai town, according to local TV.
The 12 boys, ranging in age from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old male coach are reportedly being evacuated in four groups in an operation that began in the morning.
Around 10 a.m., 13 international divers and five Thai navy SEALs entered the cave, with the operation expected to last up to four days.
Narongsak said weather and water conditions, as well as the remaining nine's physical readiness, are still the key factors for the next round of extraction.
Asked about the remaining 8 boys and the coach, the governor said they are currently at the same place inside the cave, awaiting the next operation.
Narongsak said earlier in the day the decision to execute the extraction plan was made in consideration of water levels in the cave, which are at their lowest level in the past several days, and the fact that incoming monsoon rains could raise them again.
The boys had all been assessed by a doctor in the cave and found to be fit, both mentally and physically, for the mission, he said, adding that their families had given consent for the operation to go ahead.
The 12 boys and their coach entered the cave on June 23 and were subsequently trapped by rising flood waters.
They were found deep inside the cave by two British divers late Monday last week amid a frantic search effort by hundreds of rescuers and support personnel.
[Grab taken from video released by the Thai Navy Seal]