A rescue operation began on Sunday to extract a children's football team that has been trapped in a cave in northern Thailand, the head of the mission said, as looming monsoon rains threatened the rescue effort.
"Today is the D-day. The boys are ready to face any challenges," Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters near Tham Luang cave, where the 12 boys and their coach have been trapped for more than two weeks. The mission started at 10am local time.
Weather forecasters have warned of more monsoon rains late on Sunday that would cause further flooding in the cave.
The first boy was expected be brought out of the cave by around 9pm, said Mr Osottanakorn.
He also said that rescue teams have been practising to retrieve the boys for 3-4 days, adding that 13 foreign divers, five Thai divers, five navy SEALS are taking part in the operation.
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The "Wild Boars" team has been trapped in a cramped chamber several kilometres inside the cave since June 23, when they went in after football practice and were hemmed in by monsoon floods.
Their plight has transfixed Thailand and the rest of the world, with more than 1,000 journalists registered to cover the rescue staking out a small patch of muddy land at the top of a hill near the entrance to monitor the race against time.
"Everyone who is not involved with the operations has to get out of the area immediately," police announced via loudspeaker at the site on Sunday morning.
"From the situation assessment, we need to use the area to help victims."
The order to leave the site came a day after the rescue mission chief said conditions were perfect for the evacuation to begin, but also as fears mounted that expected rains could thwart the plan by reflooding the cave.