CHIANG RAI: The rescue operation to evacuate the 13 trapped in Tham Luang cave complex has been put on hold while the oxygen tanks along the evacuation route are being replenished, mission chief Narongsak Osottanakorn said on Sunday (Jul 8).
Speaking to the media, he confirmed that four boys have left the cave complex safely and transported to a hospital in Chiang Rai's city centre.
The mission chief also said rescue workers will need at least 10 hours to prepare for the next evacuation as oxygen tanks need to be replenished.
"After 16 days of waiting, we finally get to see the faces of the 'Wild Boars' today," Narongsak said, referring to the name of the boys' football team. "Our mission is more successful than we've hoped for."
The operation began at 10am local time, with the first boys anticipated at 9pm.
But the operation turned out faster than expected, with the first boy evacuated from the cave at 5.40pm local time, while the second emerged about 10 minutes later. The third boy came out of the cave at 7.40pm, while the last one appeared at 7.50pm, according to Narongsak.
He added that the four boys were selected to come out based on the assessment of their health. They wore full-faced masks and hung on to divers' bodies on their way out, Narongsak said.
He confirmed that nine survivors remained inside the cave complex.
WATCH: What the boys and the divers have to go through to make their way out of Tham Luang cave complex
More than 90 divers took part in the rescue operation on Sunday, which kicked off at 10am (local time). Among them, about 50 are foreigners, Narongsak said.
READ: Thai cave rescue - timeline of events
The 12 schoolboys and their football coach have been trapped in the Tham Luang cave complex since Jun 23, after entering the cave during heavy rains after football practice.
All 13 were found alive late on Jul 2. The group was then taught how to use diving masks and breathing apparatuses.
On Saturday, Narongsak said it was "not suitable" yet to have the boys dive to safety. With more heavy rain expected, the rescue operation began on Sunday morning.
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