Cheers and laughter greet news of four footballers freed from flooded Thai cave

Classmates rejoicing at Mae Sai Prasitsart school after a teacher announced that some of the 12 schoolboys who were trapped inside a flooded cave have been rescued, on July 9, 2018.
Classmates rejoicing at Mae Sai Prasitsart school after a teacher announced that some of the 12 schoolboys who were trapped inside a flooded cave have been rescued, on July 9, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

MAE SAI, Thailand (NYTimes, AFP) - 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 on Sunday (July 8).

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, hours-long journey through the tight, underwater passageways of Tham Luang Cave.

Skilled cave divers, part of a team assembled from around the world, hugged each of the four boys to their bodies as they swam through the dark.

"The 4th wild boar is out of the cave," said a posting on 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 rescue operation 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 at a press conference on Sunday night.

An official was just quoted by local TV saying authorities were holding off naming the boys who had been rescued because "they're afraid it will affect the parents of kids who still remain inside", reported The Guardian newspaper.

The four boys' miraculous escape led to an explosion of jubilation on social media in Thailand as the rescued boys were rushed to hospital.

The country - and the rest of the world - have followed the search for the boys and now their rescue eagerly.

Many people have expressed their hopes for the boys to be safely evacuated from the cave through cartoons, often depicting the boys as pigs, or boars, a reference to the name of their football team - Wild Boars or Moo Pa in Thai.

Many took to social media on Sunday night to celebrate the rescue of the first four boys to be rescued.

"The rescue team of the Wild Boars should be given this year's World Cup trophy," one person wrote on Facebook, referring to the boys by the name of their football team.