Thai cave rescue mission officially underway

The operation to rescue the boys stranded in a cave in Thailand is officially underway.

On Sunday morning (local time) former provincial governor Narongsak Osatanakorn told media that 18 divers had entered the Tham Luang cave complex, tasked with safely retrieving all 12 boys and their football coach.

The rescue team consists of 13 international divers and five Thai divers, all of whom are "all stars" according to the governor.

A spokesperson has said lower than expected rainfall has aided the rescue operation. He said it could take three or four days for all 13 people to be rescued. 

The governor has indicated that the boys, who reportedly cannot swim, will be able to walk through the cave chambers to safety, rather than having to dive.

"Although there are some slightly difficult parts that we have to bend or crawl, we can say that we can just walk through," Mr Osatanakorn told media. 

He said the earliest any of the boys might be free will be 9pm on Sunday night (local time). 

Earlier in the day officials cleared the area around the cave entrance in preparation for the rescue. 

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, entered the cave complex on June 23 with their 25-year-old football coach. They became trapped on a ledge some 4km inside the structure after rain flooded the caves.

They were discovered alive on Monday (local time) after a nine-day search of the cave complex. Since then rescuers have been in a race against time to get the group out before heavy rains trap them in the enclosed space, potentially until October.

On Friday (local time) a former Thai Navy SEAL drowned while placing oxygen tanks in the cave complex.