In daring underwater cave rescue, 4 of 13 freed

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MAE SAI, Thailand — When the wail of the ambulance siren first reached the Thai village, people started cheering: The sound meant one of the boys trapped in a cave for more than two weeks was out at last and on his way to the hospital.

After more than a week of searching the flooded cave complex, and then days of planning a daring and increasingly desperate rescue, divers safely evacuated four of 13 members of a youth soccer team Sunday.

Nine remained behind, waiting their turn to escape, as of early Monday morning. The boys on the team range in age from 11 to 16, and the coach with them is 25.

One by one, the first four to be rescued emerged after a treacherous, hourslong journey through the tight, underwater passageways of Tham Luang Cave. Skilled cave divers, part of a team assembled from around the world, hugged the four to their bodies as they swam through the dark.

"The 4th wild boar is out of the cave," said a posting Sunday evening on the Facebook page of the Thai navy SEALs, who are aiding in the rescue. The Wild Boars is the name of the boys' soccer team.

After the first four rescued, however, the evacuation came to a halt. There was no choice: The rescuers had used up all the air tanks divers had placed along the route, said Narongsak Osottanakorn, head of the search operations. It would take divers 10 to 20 hours to replace the tanks for the next rescue attempt, he said.

"Today, everything was very smooth," Narongsak told reporters.

Dark clouds shrouded the mountains above the cave much of the day Sunday, bringing heavy rains and threatening to raise the water level in the cave once again.

After considering several alternatives, Thai officials settled on a tandem dive arrangement with the boys wearing full face masks so they could breathe normally.

Narongsak said 90 divers assisted in Sunday's rescue, about 50 of them from overseas. He said 18 divers — 13 foreigners and five Thais — made up the team that brought out the four.

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