Foreign elite divers and Thai Navy SEALS on Sunday morning began the complex operation to extract the 12 boys and their football coach as they raced against time, with imminent monsoon rains threatening more flooding that would doom the mission. Upon landing at nearby Old Airport, the boys were taken via ambulance to Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital, a hospital official told ABC News.
The rescue effort for the eight remaining boys and their coach will resume sometime Monday, Narongsak said.
"We've been working continuously overnight", a Chiang Rai government source told AFP on Monday morning, requesting anonymity, and confirming that there had only been a pause of the actual extraction operations.
Medics appeared to remove one person on a stretcher but hid the person's identity behind multiple white umbrellas. After emerging from the cave, they were taken in an ambulance to be evacuated from the cave site via helicopter.
Fox News reported that rescue operators believed the first phase of the operation would take about 12 hours.
He said the healthiest were taken out first, and the next phase of the operation would start in 10-20 hours. The team is huddled in an enclosed area of the cave, in which oxygen levels are falling, and the incoming rain could end up shrinking the unflooded space to around 100 square feet. "We have tried all possible ways to get the boys out, but sometimes we can't win over nature".
The mission to save all the trapped is a race against the clock with heavy rain expected this week which would again flood the tunnels with fast-flowing, rising water.
Prayuth also declined to answer questions about health of the four boys rescued yesterday. Authorities have brought the group high-protein gels and supplies to last for four months and have been trying to install a phone line. Relatives were able to see them through a glass partition, the governor said.
Asked whether the remaining four "Wild Boars" team members and their coach would come out at the same time in the next rescue effort, he said: "It depends on the plan".
Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda had said early Monday that the same group of expert divers who took part in Sunday's rescue would return to extricate the others because they know the cave conditions and what to do. The rescue mission was made harder by the high diving skills required to navigate the caves.
The team of 18 Thai and worldwide divers supported by at least 80 other rescue workers successfully rescued three more boys on Monday, two hours faster than the operation on Sunday.
Two divers accompanied each boy throughout the narrow cave passageways, guided by a rope.
The successful rescue of four boys comes as authorities confirmed last week that a former Thai Navy SEAL had died while attempting to rescue the young football team.
They were guided by expert divers who plotted the hours-long escape through more than four kilometres (2.5 miles) of twisting passageways and flooded chambers. The boys had moved 400 meters further in as the ledge had become covered by water.