All 12 boys and their soccer coach have been rescued from a flooded Thai cave complex where they were trapped for more than two weeks, according to the country’s navy SEALs.
Eight of the boys were brought out on stretchers over the first two days — four on Sunday and four on Monday. The final four boys and their 25-year-old coach were freed Tuesday. The SEALs said all are safe.
The head of the operation, Narongsak Osottanakorn, said earlier that the final operation Tuesday would be “more challenging” because one more survivor would be brought out, along with three Navy SEALs and a medic who had been staying with the group. The medic and three navy SEALs have yet to emerge from the cave, the SEALs said on Facebook.
Word that the team made it out safely was met with celebrations near the cave in the country’s north that became the site of a sprawling international rescue effort.
“There’s just a lot of happiness in the atmosphere right now, people taking pictures, hugging, really just a sense of elation that the mission today was so successful,” the CBC’s Briar Stewart reported from a media centre there.
The rescuers had been learning from experience and were two hours faster in bringing out the second batch of survivors on Monday.
Scattered monsoon rains continued to risk percolating through the limestone cave walls to flood the tunnels with fast-flowing water. But the rains cleared during the day, a reassuring sign for rescuers who have feared that wet weather could imperil the rescue.
A crack team of foreign divers and Thai Navy SEALS guided the boys out through nearly four kilometres of sometimes submerged, pitch-dark channels.
The Wild Boars soccer team and their coach got trapped on June 23 when they set out to explore the vast cave complex after soccer practice, when a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.
British divers found the group, huddled on a muddy bank in a partly flooded chamber several kilometres inside the complex, on Monday last week.
The eight boys brought out on Sunday and Monday were in good health overall and some asked for chocolate bread for breakfast, officials said, though they can’t yet digest the spicy dishes favoured by many Thais.
Two of the boys had suspected lung infections, but the four boys from the first group rescued were all walking around their hospital beds.
They are still being quarantined from their parents because of the risk of infection and would likely be kept in hospital for a week to undergo tests, officials said.
It was clear doctors were taking a cautious approach. Jedsada Chokdumrongsuk, permanent secretary at the Public Health Ministry, said they were uncertain what type of infections the boys could face “because we have never experienced this kind of issue from a deep cave.”
Highlighting the dangers of the rescue operation, a former Thai navy SEAL died Friday while replenishing scuba tanks laid at regular intervals along the route out of the Tham Luang cave.
People across Thailand, and the world, have cheered the rescue operation, including at the Mae Sai Prasitsart school where six of the trapped boys are students.
Technology billionaire Elon Musk went into the cave on Monday and left the rescue team with a “kid-sized” submarine his company SpaceX had built, Thailand’s interior Minister Anupong Paochinda said.
All that rain that they predicted and fear has arrived in Chiang Rai province. Officials will be watching the water levels inside the cave very closely as the next and possibly final <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/thaicaverescue?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#thaicaverescue</a> begins later today. <a href=”https://twitter.com/CBCTheNational?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CBCTheNational</a> <a href=”https://t.co/wfF6maXwLo”>pic.twitter.com/wfF6maXwLo</a>
However, officials rejected the idea of using Musk’s mini sub, which is made of rocket parts.
Narongsak said he was grateful for Musk’s support but the equipment was impractical for the rescue mission. Musk said he left the equipment in case rescuers could use it in future.