Photograph: Sakchai Lalit/AP

Four Boys Rescued From Thai Cave

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Four boys from a group of 12 children who have been trapped inside a cave in northern Thailand for more than two weeks have been freed.

Authorities have confirmed that the operation, which was launched at 10am today, had proceeded hours faster than expected.

The first boy emerged from the cave at 5.40pm, followed by a second 10 to 12 minutes later, he said. After that, a third and fourth at 7.40pm and 7.50pm.

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Upon completing the 3.2km journey through the muddy, jagged cave, divers turned to hug the boys, who emerged wearing full-face scuba masks.

All four had safely reached a hospital in Chiang Rai, the nearest major city. Ninety divers were involved in Sunday’s operation, 50 foreigners and 40 Thais.

The remaining eight boys and their 25-year-old coach would be brought out in further operations starting in the morning.

Air tanks and systems have to be put in place again and the next operation will get underway in the next 10 hours to 20 hours.

The extraction of the four boys took place more than two hours earlier than the most optimistic deadline set by rescue authorities on Sunday morning.

Rain on Saturday evening and throughout Sunday appears not to have halted or significantly slowed its progress.

A team of rescue workers helping to run a rope system in more difficult stretches of the cave, as well as five Thai navy Seals helped the main team.