All 12 boys and their football coach have been rescued from a Thai cave after an 18-day ordeal, the Thai Navy SEALs said in a Facebook post on Tuesday evening, on the third day of a complex mission to bring them out.
“All 12 ‘Wild Boars’ and coach have been extracted from the cave,” the post said. “All are safe” it added, signing off with a “Hooyah,” a SEALs signature throughout the painstaking mission to get the boys out of the cave.
Four SEAL team divers — including a doctor — who stayed with the group were still to emerge, the Facebook post added.
In a day of high drama, the remaining five boys emerged in groups as evening approached, guided out by international divers and the SEALs, who have played an integral role throughout an unprecedented rescue mission.
The 12 boys, aged from 11 to 16, and their coach, ventured into the cave on June 23 after football practice and got caught deep inside when heavy rains caused flooding that trapped them on a muddy ledge.
They spent nine harrowing days trapped in darkness until two British divers found them.
Authorities then struggled to devise a safe plan to get them out, mulling ideas such as drilling holes into the mountain or waiting months until monsoon rains ended and they could walk out.
With oxygen levels in their chamber falling to dangerous levels and complete flooding of the cave system possible, rescuers pushed ahead with the least-worst option of having divers escort them out through the extremely narrow and water-filled tunnels.
The ups and downs of the rescue bid has entranced Thailand and also fixated a global audience, drawing support from celebrities as varied as US President Donald Trump, football star Lionel Messi and tech guru Elon Musk.
The emergence of the second batch of four boys on Monday evening was greeted with a simple “Hooyah” by the SEAL team on their Facebook page, an exclamation that lit up Thai social media.
Positive medical reports on the rescued group further fueled the sense of joy and optimism.
The boys “are in good health, no fever… everyone is in a good mental state,” Jedsada Chokdamrongsuk, permanent secretary of the public health ministry, said at Chiang Rai hospital where the boys were recuperating on Tuesday morning.
However, the boys will remain in quarantine until doctors were sure they had not contracted any infections from inside the cave.
Experts warned that drinking contaminated water or otherwise being exposed to bird or bat droppings in the cave could lead to dangerous infections.
But the early signs on the initial eight were promising, with X-rays and blood tests showing just two had signs of pneumonia and that they were in a “normal state” after taking antibiotics, Jedsada said.
Some had even asked for “bread and chocolate spread,” he added.
The escape route was a challenge for even experienced divers. The boys had no previous diving experience so the rescuers trained them how to use a mask and breathe underwater via an oxygen tank.
One fear had been that they would panic while trying to swim underwater, even with a diver escorting them.
Although there have been no major reported complications during the initial rescues, the death of a former Thai Navy SEAL diver who ran out of oxygen in a flooded area of the cave on Friday underscored the dangers of the journey.
“I cannot understand how cool these small kids are, you know? Thinking about how they’ve been kept in a small cave for two weeks, they haven’t seen their mums,” Ivan Karadzic, who runs a diving business in Thailand and has been involved in the rescue mission, told the BBC.