Eight boys rescued from flooded Thai caves, now up to 'rain god'

CHIANG RAI, Thailand, July 9 (Reuters) - Eight of the 12 boys trapped with their soccer coach in a labyrinthine flooded cave complex in northern Thailand have been freed, authorities said on Monday, adding that the time for rescuing the others will depend on the weather.

The mission which started Sunday is a race against the clock with heavy rain expected this week which would again flood the tunnels with fast-flowing, rising water.

A crack team of foreign divers and Thai Navy SEALS guided four boys on Sunday and a further four on Monday through narrow, submerged channels from the muddy bank deep inside the Tham Luang cave where they had been stranded for more than two weeks.

"All four boys have arrived at hospital, all are safe," Narongsak Osottanakorn, head of the rescue mission, told reporters of those freed on Monday.

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Members of Thai children's soccer team found alive at Tham Luang caves
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Members of Thai children's soccer team found alive at Tham Luang caves
Rescue teams search the Tham Luang caves for 13 members of an under-16 soccer team, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Rescue teams search the Tham Luang caves for 13 members of an under-16 soccer team, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Relatives pray outside the Tham Luang caves, where 13 members of an-under 16 soccer team are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Thai military personnel and rescuers are seen outside the Tham Luang caves, where 13 members of an-under 16 soccer team are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Soldiers read a map near the Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Chayut Setboonsarng
A military personnel is seen inside of the Tham Luang caves where 13 members of an under-16 soccer team were trapped in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Rescue workers are seen inside of the Tham Luang caves where 13 members of an under 16 soccer team were trapped in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Journalists work in Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A family member cries near Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Family members pass their time near Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Christian volunteers pray near the Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A soldier hold a map as he works near the Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
British diver Richard William Stanton arrives to the Tham Luang caves during a search for the members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Rescue workers work near the Tham Luang caves during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Thailand's Prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha clean wipes sweat from his face as he meets with family members near the Tham Luang cave complex during an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers unload aids near the Tham Luang cave complex, as a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers work in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A soldier walks in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A diver walks in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers work in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A military helicopter lands near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A military helicopter take off near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers work near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A spirit and Buddha state image are seen in front of a cave near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers work near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Divers equipment is seen near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
An ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, near Tham Luang cave complex, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Journalists try to interview a military officer near the Tham Luang cave complex, as members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach have been found alive, according to a local media's report, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
TOPSHOT - Indian schoolchildren hold placards and pictures during a prayer event for the safe rescue of young football players and their coach stuck in a cave in Thailand, in Ahmedabad on July 9, 2018. - Rescue workers dived deep inside a flooded Thai cave for a second straight day on July 9 in a treacherous bid to save a group of young footballers, with the mission chief promising more 'good news' after four of the 13 were saved. (Photo by SAM PANTHAKY / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 9: Classmates of Adul, one of the boys trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave, visit a tribute for the Wild Boars soccer team at the entrance of Ban Waingphan school on July 9, 2018 in Chiangrai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to pull the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Videos released by the Thai Navy SEAL shows the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach are in good health in Tham Luang Nang Non cave and the challenge now will be to extract the party safely. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 9: Classmates of Adul, one of the boys trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave, visit a tribute for the Wild Boars soccer team at the entrance of Ban Waingphan school on July 9, 2018 in Chiangrai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to pull the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Videos released by the Thai Navy SEAL shows the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach are in good health in Tham Luang Nang Non cave and the challenge now will be to extract the party safely. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 10: A helicopter transport boys rescued from Tham Luang Nang Non cave from a cave to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital on July 10, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to free the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Videos released by the Thai Navy SEAL shows the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach are in good health in Tham Luang Nang Non cave and the challenge now will be to extract the party safely. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
An ambulance exits from the Tham Luang cave area as operations continue for the 8 boys and their coach trapped at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 9, 2018. - Four boys among the group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on July 8 after surviving a treacherous escape, raising hopes elite divers would also save the others soon. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai policemen secure the road leading to Tham Luang cave area as rescue operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 9, 2018. - Four boys among the group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on July 8 after surviving a treacherous escape, raising hopes elite divers would also save the others soon. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
A sand art about Thailand boys rescue tragedy is seen at the Bay of Bengal Sea's eastern coast beach, creating by Indian sand artist Sudarshan Pattnik for public awareness at Puri 65 km away from the eastern Indian state Odisha's capital city Bhubaneswar, on July 10, 2018. (Photo by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Police and military personnel use umbrellas to cover around a stretcher near a helicopter and an ambulance at a military airport in Chiang Rai on July 9, 2018, as rescue operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district. - Four boys among the group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on July 8 after surviving a treacherous escape, raising hopes elite divers would also save the others soon. (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Thai soldiers walk out from the Tham Luang cave area as operations continue for the 8 boys and their coach trapped at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 9, 2018. - Four boys among the group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on July 8 after surviving a treacherous escape, raising hopes elite divers would also save the others soon. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai police monitor a press conference by officials at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital in Chiang Rai on July 10, 2018 as the rescue for a group of boys and their coach trapped in a cave in nearby Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park continues. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
A nurse adjusts her facemask at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital in Chiang Rai on July 10, 2018, as the rescue for a group of boys and their coach trapped in a cave in nearby Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park continues. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the media report from a hill near the Tham Luang cave area as the operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 10, 2018. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
An ambulance leaves the Tham Luang cave area as operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 10, 2018. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
A Thai military police salutes an ambulance leaving from the Tham Luang cave area as the operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 10, 2018. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 10: Onlookers watch and cheer as ambulances transport the 10th rescued schoolboy from a helipad nearby to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital on July 10, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to free the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Thai Navy SEALs have confirmed that the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have now all been extracted safely. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 10: Onlookers watch and cheer as ambulances transport the 10th rescued schoolboy from a helipad nearby to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital on July 10, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to free the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Thai Navy SEALs have confirmed that the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have now all been extracted safely. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 10: Onlookers watch and cheer as ambulances transport some of the rescued schoolboys from a helipad to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital on July 10, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Thai Navy SEALs confirmed on Tuesday that the 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have now all been extracted safely 17 days after they got trapped underground alive in a cave in northern Thailand. The boys of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach are to spend at least a week in a hospital in Chiang Rai Province and remain under observation due to a risk of rare infections. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
Volunteers celebrate at a makeshift press centre in Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 10, 2018, after the twelve boys and their football coach were rescued. - The final five members of a young football team were rescued from a flooded Thai cave on July 10, after spending 18 harrowing days trapped deep inside, completing an astonishing against-the-odds rescue mission that captivated the world. (Photo by Ye Aung THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman reacts near a hospital where the children's football team members are treated after being rescued, in Chiang Rai on July 10, 2018. - All 12 boys and their football coach trapped in a cave in northern Thailand for more than a fortnight have been rescued in an unprecedented three-day mission that had all the features of a blockbuster film. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Chiang Rai province acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn (2L) greets journalists during his news conference near Tham Luang cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Journalists celebrate before a news conference near Tham Luang cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
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Asked whether the remaining four "Wild Boars" team and their coach would come out at the same time in the next rescue effort, he said: "It depends on the plan... We have set the plan for four people so if they want to take five out (at the same time), then they need to change the plan."

The operation on Monday went more smoothly than on Sunday and took two hours less as the practice became more refined, he said.

But he added rescuers may need more than 20 hours, to replan and replenish oxygen supplies, to be ready to mount the next mission.

Then it will depend on the weather. Heavy rain has struck the region intermittently over the last three days and further downpours could set back draining efforts at the cave.

“As all of us said, the main thing is we still need more than 20 hours to get ready," Narongsak said. "And it is up to the environment. If the rain god helps us, then we may be able to work fast. But if the rain god doesn't help, then it could be challenging.”

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited the cave to inspect the operation, with navy rescuers giving him a rousing cheer.

"The prime minister said that this kind of event should never happen again on Thai soil," Narongsak said. "We should learn from this experience to prevent it from happening again."

The team became trapped on June 23 when they set out to explore the cave after soccer practice and rains flooded the tunnels, trapping them inside.

British divers found the 13 a week ago.

"RESCUE HAS BEEN IMMENSE"

But the efforts to rescue the boys - aged between 11 and 16 - have proved a monumental challenge. Some are not even strong swimmers, and have had to learn to dive in conditions that claimed the life of a former Thai Navy SEAL on Friday.

Thirteen foreign divers and five members of Thailand's elite navy SEAL unit make up the main team guiding the boys to safety.

Authorities have said the boys are being held close to divers and wear oxygen masks to enable normal breathing.

"The rescue has been immense," said volunteer helper Somjit Saenset, 56. "I'm so happy the children came out safely. I want to send my moral support for all involved" in the rest of the mission.

Authorities have not confirmed the identity of the rescued boys. Some of the parents told Reuters they had not been told who had been rescued and that they were not allowed to visit the hospital.

Narongsak said the rescued boys had not been identified out of respect for the families whose sons were still trapped, adding that the boys were being kept away from their parents due to fear of infection.

Medical teams previously said concerns included hypothermia and an airborne lung infection known as "cave disease," which is caused by bat and bird droppings.

Somboon Sompiangjai, 38, the father of one of the trapped boys, said parents were told by rescuers ahead of Sunday's operation the "strongest children" would be brought out first.

"We have not been told which child has been brought out ... We can't visit our boys in hospital because they need to be monitored for 48 hours," Somboon told Reuters.

"I'm hoping for good news."

The president of soccer's governing body, FIFA, has invited the boys to the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday if they make it out in time.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um, Juarawee Kittisilpa, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, John Geddie and James Pomfret in CHIANG RAI Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Panarat Thepgumpanat, Pracha Hariraksapitak, and Aukkarapon Niyomyat in BANGKOK Writing by John Geddie Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

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