Four players from the missing Thai football team trapped inside a flooded cave were brought out overnight after divers executed a carefully constructed rescue mission while racing against the clock.

Thirty-five emergency doctors were on standby as the "exhausted" boys were flown by military helicopters and ambulances to Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital.

The operation was suspended just before 2am Monday (New Zealand time) because rescuers had used all available oxygen supplies.

The other eight players and their coach remain underground and will hopefully be rescued today. Divers are expected to re-enter the caves anytime between noon and 10pm Monday New Zealand time — but only if conditions are suitable.

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Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osatanakorn told a press conference overnight that the operation is going "better than expected".

"Everyone's happy. Today was very smooth," he said.

He said the rescued boys were in "perfect" health, despite earlier reports that one was being "closely monitored", calling the rescue "our masterpiece work".

More than 90 international divers and 40 Thai divers have taken part in the daring rescue.

The first boy to emerge was identified by local media as Mongkol Boonpium, 13, and the second as Prachuck Sutham, 14, but the governor would not confirm who had been rescued.

He said a doctor had determined the order, with the strongest leaving first.

He said: "After 16 days of waiting today we finally see the faces of the Wild Boars. Today is the best situation that allow us to carry out the evacuation operation. All of the four boys have been sent to the hospital and all of them are safe."

The first rescues were confirmed just after midnight, NZ time.

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At a press conference about 2am NZ time, Osatanakorn said "four have been [brought] out from the cave site, four have been rescued. We consider that a great success."

"Our job is not completely done," Osatanakorn said. "We will have to do the next mission as successfully as the one we did today. The rest of the kids are in the same spot."

"Air tanks and systems have to be put in place again," he said. "I can't tell you exact timing of the next operation but I can say it will be more than 10 hours to 20 hours. It will not be more than 20 hours. I have to check all factors are stable. The operation then will be carried out.

Ambulances transport boys rescued from Tham Luang Nang Non cave to hospital on July 8, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Photo / Getty Images
Ambulances transport boys rescued from Tham Luang Nang Non cave to hospital on July 8, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Photo / Getty Images

"This morning we expected the first boy to come out at about 9pm [2am Monday NZ time]. But it turned out that the first boy came out at 5.40pm [10.40pm Sunday NZ time].

"The second boy came out between ten and 20 minutes after that.

"We transferred the first two to the hospital immediately.

"And the other two – the third and fourth boys – came out at 7.40pm and 7.50pm [12.40am and 12.50am Monday NZ time] respectively.

"For the rest of the boys, the evacuation operation will resume when the conditions are suitable. The reason why we have to wait before we can resume the mission because we have to start the whole operation again.

"This includes carrying the air tanks into the cave because all of the air tanks have been used up now.

"The most important thing is that the mission will resume when we have the best conditions possible, as we did today.

"We will restart the operation when we are confident that the conditions are suitable."

The boys and their coach have spent 16 days trapped in the complex cave network below the Mae Sai mountains, in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, after wandering in to explore.

Pictures showed the youngsters being stretchered from ambulances to helicopters after the incredible cave rescue.

An extraction team of 18 divers, including five Thai Navy SEALs started their "extremely dangerous" operation at 10am local time after the boys' anxious families were informed.

All of the youngsters and their 25-year-old coach were expected to emerge one by one from the cave today, Governor Narongsak said in the morning, but some families were told late in the afternoon they will have to wait.

Each boy pulled out was accompanied by two divers on the perilous 4km journey through murky waters and narrow tunnels. It's understood they were able to walk most of the way after teams drained the water level by 30cm on Saturday night.

According to Thai media the trapped boys were expected to be divided into four groups — with the first group containing four boys and the second, third and fourth containing three players each.

The group is trapped 800 metres below ground.

"Today is D-Day," Osatanakorn announced on Sunday morning.

"The water level has reached the lowest it has been in ten days. We ask to pray that this operation is a success."

Bursts of heavy monsoon rain soaked the Tham Luang Cave area in northern Chiang Rai province throughout Sunday.

The operation was earlier called a "war with water and time" to save the team.

All of the boys had been told about the operation, which is being watched eagerly around the world, and they are ready to come out, the governor said.

"They are very strong and determined to come out and be reunited with their families."

The evacuation sytarted on the 16th day of the operation. The mission got under way as the monsoon storm clouds finally burst open, with rain showers drenching the mountainous countryside.

"This is the best day for the operation," the governor said.

"The boys were given a medical examination yesterday by a specialist doctor who confirmed that they were well enough to be evacuated.

"If we did not carry out the mission today we might not have been able to get them out.

"I appeal to everyone around the world who has been following the tragic case for your support for the boys and the rescuers."

The rescue mission could take three days to complete.

Thai authorities removed the media – including dozens of foreign TV networks, photographers and journalists – from the area around the entrance of the cave this morning.

Some anguished families of the missing boys revealed their relief that the rescue mission to free them from the flooded cave had begun.

Relatives of Pornchai Khamluang, Mongkol Boonpiam and Peerapat Sompiangjal have told how they can't wait to see the missing youngsters — even if it is in a hosopital bed.

"All of the family hopes that the boys will come out of the cave as quickly as possible," Pornchai's aunt, Jarm Ounsaeng, told MailOnline.

'Even if the boys have to be taken to hospital, at least we will be able to visit them.'

Jarm spoke as other relatives of the stranded youngsters have revealed how their fraught parents and siblings have been struggling to cope with their disappearance.

And details of the boys' lives — and how precious they are to their families — have emerged as the world waits for news of their escape.

The parents of Nattawut Thakamsong — who suffers from asthma and is known as "TLE" — have already suffered the heartache of losing a child when their first-born, a girl, died of cancer when she was just 10 months old.

Another boy Mongkol Boonpiam is his mother's only companion, after she separated from his father.

His aunt, Eytan Hongwattana, 48, told MailOnline: "Mongkol lives with his mother because his parents have split up. During the first days of his disappearance my sister, Namhom Boonpiam, was very unwell. She kept fainting, several times a day. She would not eat or even drink.

"I live 100km away but I came to look after my sister when she heard that Mongkol was missing.

"She has up been up at the cave everyday. She only comes home for a few minutes to take a shower and have something to eat. After the boys were found she has been a bit better. And reading his letter helped too."

Onlookers watch and cheer as ambulances deliver boys rescued from a cave in northern Thailand to hospital in Chiang Rai after they were transported by helicopters. Photo / Getty Images
Onlookers watch and cheer as ambulances deliver boys rescued from a cave in northern Thailand to hospital in Chiang Rai after they were transported by helicopters. Photo / Getty Images

Pornchai's aunt said his mother Kiang Khamlue and father In Khamluang have been frantic with worry since he disappeared.

Jarm told MailOnline: "The whole family are very worried about Pornchai."

Nattawut Thakamsong's teacher Thongyard Kejorn, who is close to the family, told MailOnline: 'Before Tie [Nattawut Thakamsong] the family had a little girl who died of cancer.

"So Tie is their only child and they are devoted to him.

"Even though he is 14, the father takes him to school and the mother picks him up – always.

"They have been outside the cave for the past two weeks. They only return home for clean clothes.

"When I saw them, they just burst into tears."

Thousands of rescuers including Thai Navy SEALs and elite British divers have been working around the clock to come up with a plan to bring the exhausted and starved boys home safely.

But gathering clouds thundered down heavy rain for 90 minutes on Saturday night leading authorities to call to begin immediately on Sunday.

 Thai boys smile as Thai Navy SEAL medic help injured children inside a cave in Mae Sai, northern Thailand. Photo / AP
Thai boys smile as Thai Navy SEAL medic help injured children inside a cave in Mae Sai, northern Thailand. Photo / AP

"Now and in the next three or four days, the conditions are perfect [for evacuation] in terms of the water, the weather and the boys' health," Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said.

"We have to make a clear decision on what we can do."

Weather forecasts predict sustained thunderstorms lasting through Sunday and Monday, with further stormy weather for the next two weeks.

Police early evacuated the area around the cave mouth in preparation — giving everyone until 9am local time to leave.

"Assessing the situation now, it is necessary to evacuate the area for the rescue operation,' Mae Sai police commander Komsan Sa-ardluan bellowed over a loudspeaker.

"Those unrelated to the rescue operation, please evacuate the area immediately."
The frantic four-day deadline marked a dramatic U-turn from Governor Narongsak's press conference just 12 hours earlier.

Then he said the boys were still learning to dive and were not yet strong enough to make the perilous escape through narrow tunnels that are at one point just 38cm wide.

Rescuers have fed a kilometres-long air pipe into the cave to restore oxygen levels in the chamber where the team are sheltering, accompanied by medics and expert divers.

Governor Narongsak foreshadowed plans could rapidly change depending on the weather, as "a heavy downpour comes down into the caves like a tsunami".

Officials have long feared the coming torrential rain would catastrophically flood the cave system in Chiang Rai and make rescue impossible.r boys and the second, third and fourth containing three players each.

 Rescue workers along the main road leading to Tham Luang Nang Non cave as the first 2 ambulances carrying 2 boys pass by. Photo / Getty Images
Rescue workers along the main road leading to Tham Luang Nang Non cave as the first 2 ambulances carrying 2 boys pass by. Photo / Getty Images

The group is trapped 800 metres below ground.

"Today is D-Day," Osatanakorn announced on Sunday morning.

"The water level has reached the lowest it has been in ten days. We ask to pray that this operation is a success."

Bursts of heavy monsoon rain soaked the Tham Luang Cave area in northern Chiang Rai province throughout Sunday.
The operation was earlier called a "war with water and time" to save the team.

All of the boys had been told about the operation, which is being watched eagerly around the world, and they are ready to come out, the governor said.

"They are very strong and determined to come out and be reunited with their families."
The evacuation is taking place on the 16th day of the operation. The mission got underway as the monsoon storm clouds finally burst open, with rain showers drenching the mountainous countryside.

"This is the best day for the operation," the governor said.

"The boys were given a medical examination yesterday by a specialist doctor who confirmed that they were well enough to be evacuated.

"If we did not carry out the mission today we might not have been able to get them out.

"I appeal to everyone around the world who has been following the tragic case for your support for the boys and the rescuers."

The rescue mission could take three days to complete as the other players and their coach remain inside the cave.

Thai authorities removed the media – including dozens of foreign TV networks, photographers and journalists – from the area around the entrance of the cave this morning.

Some anguished families of the missing boys revealed their relief that the rescue mission to free them from the flooded cave had begun.

Relatives of Pornchai Khamluang, Mongkol Boonpiam and Peerapat Sompiangjal have told how they can't wait to see the missing youngsters — even if it is in a hosopital bed.

Rescuers lock hands during a prayer as Sunday's operation got under way. Photo / Thai Navy SEALS
Rescuers lock hands during a prayer as Sunday's operation got under way. Photo / Thai Navy SEALS

"All of the family hopes that the boys will come out of the cave as quickly as possible," Pornchai's aunt, Jarm Ounsaeng, told MailOnline.

'Even if the boys have to be taken to hospital, at least we will be able to visit them.'

Jarm spoke as other relatives of the stranded youngsters have revealed how their fraught parents and siblings have been struggling to cope with their disappearance.

And details of the boys' lives — and how precious they are to their families — have emerged as the world waits for news of their escape.

The parents of Nattawut Thakamsong — who suffers from asthma and is known as "TLE" — have already suffered the heartache of losing a child when their first-born, a girl, died of cancer when she was just 10 months old.

Another boy Mongkol Boonpiam is his mother's only companion, after she separated from his father.

His aunt, Eytan Hongwattana, 48, told MailOnline: "Mongkol lives with his mother because his parents have split up. During the first days of his disappearance my sister, Namhom Boonpiam, was very unwell. She kept fainting, several times a day. She would not eat or even drink.

"I live 100km away but I came to look after my sister when she heard that Mongkol was missing.

"She has up been up at the cave everyday. She only comes home for a few minutes to take a shower and have something to eat. After the boys were found she has been a bit better. And reading his letter helped too."

A rescuer working near the cave where the boys and their coach have been trapped since June 23. Photo / AP
A rescuer working near the cave where the boys and their coach have been trapped since June 23. Photo / AP

Pornchai's aunt said his mother Kiang Khamlue and father In Khamluang have been frantic with worry since he disappeared.

Jarm told MailOnline: "The whole family are very worried about Pornchai."

Nattawut Thakamsong's teacher Thongyard Kejorn, who is close to the family, told MailOnline: 'Before Tie [Nattawut Thakamsong] the family had a little girl who died of cancer.

"So Tie is their only child and they are devoted to him.

"Even though he is 14, the father takes him to school and the mother picks him up – always.

"They have been outside the cave for the past two weeks. They only return home for clean clothes.

"When I saw them, they just burst into tears."

Thousands of rescuers including Thai Navy SEALs and elite British divers have been working around the clock to come up with a plan to bring the exhausted and starved boys home safely.

But gathering clouds thundered down heavy rain for 90 minutes on Saturday night leading authorities to call to begin immediately on Sunday.

"Now and in the next three or four days, the conditions are perfect [for evacuation] in terms of the water, the weather and the boys' health," Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said.

"We have to make a clear decision on what we can do."

Weather forecasts predict sustained thunderstorms lasting through Sunday and Monday, with further stormy weather for the next two weeks.

Police early evacuated the area around the cave mouth in preparation — giving everyone until 9am local time to leave.

"Assessing the situation now, it is necessary to evacuate the area for the rescue operation,' Mae Sai police commander Komsan Sa-ardluan bellowed over a loudspeaker.

An ambulance leaves the cave in northern Thailand, with one of the rescued boys believed to inside. Photo / AP
An ambulance leaves the cave in northern Thailand, with one of the rescued boys believed to inside. Photo / AP

"Those unrelated to the rescue operation, please evacuate the area immediately."

The frantic four-day deadline marked a dramatic U-turn from Governor Narongsak's press conference just 12 hours earlier. Then, he said the boys were still learning to dive and were not yet strong enough to make the perilous escape through narrow tunnels that are at one point just 38cm wide.

Rescuers have fed a kilometres-long air pipe into the cave to restore oxygen levels in the chamber where the team are sheltering, accompanied by medics and expert divers.

Governor Narongsak foreshadowed plans could rapidly change depending on the weather, as "a heavy downpour comes down into the caves like a tsunami".

Officials have long feared the coming torrential rain would catastrophically flood the cave system in Chiang Rai and make rescue impossible.

Additional reporting: AP, news.com.au, Washington Post