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Ambulances leave from Thai cave as rescue underway

The boys and their 25-year-old coach have been trapped since June 23, when they went exploring in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave after a practice game.

Thai soldiers divert water from the cave where

Thai soldiers divert water from the cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach have been trapped since June 23 in northern Thailand on Saturday. Photo Credit: AP / Sakchai Lalit

MAE SAI, Thailand  — Two ambulances were seen Sunday evening leaving a cave in northern Thailand where 12 youth soccer players and their coach have been trapped for more than two weeks, hours after an operation began to rescue them.

The ambulances then drove to a nearby helipad, and a helicopter was seen taking off. Officials had said earlier that helicopters were on standby to take anyone rescued from the cave to a hospital.

It was unclear who was inside the ambulances or the helicopter. Officials did not immediately comment.

The operation to rescue the 12 boys and their coach by having them dive out of the flooded cave where they've been trapped for more than two weeks began in the morning, with expert divers entering the sprawling complex for the complicated and dangerous mission.

Chiang Rai province acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, who is heading the operation, said 13 foreign and five Thai divers were taking part in the rescue and two divers will accompany each boy as they're gradually extracted.

"Divers will work with doctors in the cave to examine each the kids' health to determine who should get to come out first," Narongsak said.

The entire operation to rescue all 13 could last two to four days, depending on weather and water conditions, said army Maj. Gen. Chalongchai Chaiyakam.

The only way to bring the boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach out of Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai province is by navigating dark and tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents, as well as oxygen-depleted air. A former Thai navy SEAL passed out and died making the dive Friday.

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