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A rescue effort to free 12 youth soccer players and their 25-year-old coach, who have been trapped in a cave in northern Thailand for two weeks, was underway Sunday, according to reports.

The first two boys emerged about nightfall from the Tham Luang cave complex after navigating a treacherous escape route of more than four kilometres (2.5 miles) through twisting, narrow and jagged passageways.

The boys, who are due to be taken to Chiang Rai hospital for further medical examination, are said to be in good health, with their condition described by officials as "not that bad".

A group of divers and Thai Navy SEALs rescued the four boys on Sunday in ten minutes less than they had practiced beforehand in what was called a "smooth operation" by Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn. A defence ministry official earlier told AFP six boys had "come out".

But experts have warned that extraction efforts will bear significant risk, underscored by the death of a retired Thai Navy SEAL early Friday morning when he ran out of oxygen during a dive.

Complicated rescue: Local government officials said 13 foreign and five Thai divers are taking part in the long and risky operation to free the 12 young soccer players and their 25-year-old coach. Today is D-Day.' Fearing further flooding, he said the children, aged 11 to 16, might be stuck until January if they ignored yesterday's chance.

The rescue mission began on Sunday morning, almost a week since the 12 boys, aged 11-16, and their coach had been discovered on an embankment 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) inside the winding tunnels.

The ordeal of the trapped children has drawn huge media attention to Thailand as the complicated operation unfolded amid heavy rain and the threat of rising water underground. It remains unclear how numerous boys have actually left the cave. The acting Chiang Rai governor had said rescuers couldn't wait for ideal weather conditions because of several factors.

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This is very hard to accept. "I thought we did brilliant because we kept a cool head and we have not been dragged into it".

Another concern for the remaining boys is their health and conditioning to make the arduous trip after nine days without food before they were found by navy divers.

Rescuing them all could take three to four days and depended on the weather, an army commander involved in the mission said. He has also thanked worldwide experts who helped find the boys.

Four of the boys were extracted after the rescue team took advantage of low water levels. "We want to evacuate all 13 people as soon as possible but I don't want to specify any day and date", said Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (above, at right).

For the boys who can't swim, this 4km back to safety will likely take much longer.

The mission reportedly paused due to depleted oxygen levels in the cave.

A team from a company owned by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk with drilling and exploration expertise was expected to reach the cave site yesterday, Thailand's defence ministry said.

"Don't be anxious, I miss everyone".


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