CHIANG RAI: Four of 12 members of the Thai football team who have been stranded along with their coach for more than two weeks inside the Tham Luang cave complex were evacuated on Sunday night (Jul 8).
The chief of the rescue mission said at a press conference that the first boy exited at 5.40pm local time and the second at 5.50pm, while the third and fourth boys were evacuated about two hours later.
"After 16 days of waiting, we get to see the faces of the 'Wild Boars'", mission chief Narongsak Osottanakorn said, confirming that four boys have arrived in a hospital in Chiang Rai's city centre.
Shortly after it was reported that two boys have been evacuated, an ambulance believed to be transporting the boys was seen leaving the area. A helicopter was then seen heading for the city centre, where there is a hospital.
Minutes later, a spokesman for Thailand's defence ministry said four boys have reached the rescue base camp set up inside the complex and would walk out soon.
"Four boys have reached Chamber Three and will walk out of the cave shortly," Lieutenant-General Kongcheep Tantrawanit told AFP, referring to the area where rescue workers had set up a base.
At about 7.45pm, Reuters, citing a senior member of the rescue team, reported that six have left the cave.
However, the rescue mission chief later said at a press conference that only four members had been evacuated from the cave complex.
The operation to extricate the 12 Thai boys and their coach, who have been trapped since Jun 23, from the bowels of the cave began at 10am on Sunday morning. The first boys were initially expected to emerge only at 9pm.
The trapped boys were divided into four groups, according to the Bangkok Post. Four boys were in the first group, with the rest split into groups of three. The coach was in the last group.
The rescue team comprised 13 foreign cave diving experts, described as some of the best cave divers in the world, and five Thai SEALs.
They were believed to have reached the first group of boys at 4pm.
It takes at least six hours to reach the chamber where the 13 have been stranded in near darkness over the past 16 days, and no fewer than five hours to come out.
Helicopters were seen waiting outside the cave complex to lift the boys to the nearest hospital, which is about 100km away.
With fresh monsoon rains due, rescuers have warned that the window of opportunity to evacuate the boys is "limited".
Millions of gallons of water have been pumped out to make the dive in Tham Luang less treacherous.
Already, one diver has lost his life after delivering oxygen supply to the trapped boys.
READ MORE | Full coverage of the search and rescue operation: