U.S. special operations teams and divers have been part of the Thai-led international rescue effort that led to four boys being pulled to safety from a cave Sunday after being trapped for 16 days.
Divers who entered the Tham Luang cave complex Sunday morning emerged nine hours later at about 5:40 p.m. local time with two boys, described as among the weakest of the group of 12 boys aged 11 to 16 and their soccer coach who went on an adventure outing after practice last month.
Two more boys were pulled from the cave a short time later from where they had been marooned by floodwaters more than two miles from the cave entrance, the Thai Navy SEAL official Facebook page said.
At a news conference, Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said that five Thai Navy SEALs and 13 foreign divers were involved in the rescue of the four boys. It was not immediately known if a U.S. diver was among them.
The rescued boys were fitted with full-face masks for oxygen and had to travel more than a half-mile underwater in the struggle to reach safety along the 2.4-mile escape route, the governor said. Each of the rescued boys had two divers with them at all times during the operation.
He said the rescue operation was pausing for about 10 to 20 hours to check the escape route again for safety before being resumed.
The rescue operation is racing time and the weather during Thailand's rainy season. Rescuers fear more flooding in the cave, and a weather front is approaching.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday morning, "The U.S. is working very closely with the government of Thailand to help get all of the children out of the cave and to safety. Very brave and talented people!"
Last week, as hopes for rescue were fading, divers found that the boys and their coach had survived and were trapped on a ledge deep inside the cave.
"We were thrilled when the children and their coach were discovered alive," U.S. Air Force Capt. Jessica Tait, a spokeswoman for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told ABC News at the time.
She said members of the 353rd U.S. Special Operations Group and U.S. military pararescue teams, survival specialists, divers and medical personnel are on the ground in support of the Thai-led international rescue effort.
"This is probably some of the most difficult diving there is" in the rescue operation, she said, "and this is the rainy season" with constant fears of more flooding and perilous currents.
Last week, a Thai SEAL died in a rescue attempt.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.