‘Everyone is safe’: Daring rescue saves all 12 boys and their coach from flooded cave in Thailand
Members of the rescued soccer team and their coach sit during a press conference discussing their ordeal in the cave in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, Wednesday, July 18, 2018.(Vincent Thian / AP)
In this image made from video, released by the Thailand Government Spokesman Bureau, three of the 12 boys are seen recovering in their hospital beds after being rescued along with their coach from a flooded cave in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand.(AP)
Banphot Konkum, the uncle of Duangpetch Promthep, one of the boys rescued from a flooded cave, right, and their other members of his family watch Duangpetch and the rest of the boys live on television recalling their ordeal in the cave at his home in Mae Sai district, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, Wednesday, July 18, 2018.(Sakchai Lalit / AP)
Members the media try to photograph a projected image of the rescued boys in their hospital room during a police press conference in Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, Wednesday, July 11, 2018.(AP)
Members of the media try to photograph a projected image of the rescued boys in their hospital room during a police press conference in Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, Wednesday, July 11, 2018.(AP)
A helicopter believed to be carrying one of the boys rescued from the flooded cave lands in Chiang Rai as divers continued to extract the remaining boys and their coach trapped at Tham Luang cave in the Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, on July 10, 2018.(Vincent Thian / AP)
Rescuers walk toward the entrance to a cave complex where five were still trapped in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, on July 10, 2018.(Sakchai Lalit / AP)
Hospital workers watch a press conference at their hospital where rescued boys are tended to, in Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, on July 10, 2018.(Vincent Thian / AP)
Onlookers watch and cheer as ambulances transport some of the rescued schoolboys from a helipad to a hospital on July 9, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand.(Lauren DeCicca / Getty Images)
In this undated photo released by Royal Thai Navy on July 7, 2018, Thai rescue team members walk inside a cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach have been trapped since June 23, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand.(Royal Thai Navy via AP)
Thai soldiers drag water pipes that will help bypass water from entering a cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach have been trapped since June 23, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, in northern Thailand Saturday, July 7, 2018.(Sakchai Lalit / AP)
Thai military honor guards transport a coffin containing the remains of a former Thai Navy Seal Petty Officer 1st class Saman Kunan, who died in the ongoing Tham Luang cave rescue operations, during a repatriation ceremony at Mae Fah Luang international airport in Chiang Rai province, Thailand, July 06, 2018.(Rungroj Yongrit/EPA)
A photo made available by the Thai Navy SEALs on July 6 shows Thai military personnel carrying equipment inside a cave complex during the ongoing rescue operations for the youth soccer team and their assistant coach, at Tham Luang cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park, Chiang Rai province, Thailand. According to latest reports, a former Thai Navy diver has died during the rescue operations to safely bring out the youth soccer team out of the cave.(Thai Navy)
Thai military personnel bring water pumps to the cave on July 6, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand where 12 boys and their soccer coach have been found alive in the cave where they’ve been missing for over a week after monsoon rains blocked the main entrance in northern Thailand.(Lauren DeCicca / Getty Images)
Rescue workers at the Tham Luang cave area as operations continue on July 5, 2018.(Lillian Suwanrumpha/ AFP/Getty Images)
Pumps at the entrance of Tham Luang Nang Non cave to lower the water level inside the cave on July 05, 2018.(Linh Pham / Getty Images)
Thai volunteers prepare food in a mobile canteen at the Tham Luang cave area as rescue operations continue on July 5, 2018.(Getty Images)
Family members pray before a shrine in the Tham Luang cave area as rescue operations continue on July 5, 2018.(Ye Aung Thu / AFP/Getty Images)
In this July 3, 2018, image taken from video provided by the Royal Thai Navy Facebook Page, a Thai boy smiles as Thai Navy SEAL medic help injured children inside a cave in Mae Sai, northern Thailand.(AP)
In this July 3, 2018, image taken from video provided by the Royal Thai Navy Facebook Page, Thai boy smiles as Thai Navy SEAL medic help injured children inside a cave in Mae Sai, northern Thailand.(AP)
A happy family member shows the latest pictures taken by rescue divers of the missing boys inside Tham Luang cave.(Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP/Getty Images)
Family members of the 12 boys and their soccer coach watch a video clip of the boys on television after they were found alive, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, in northern Thailand, on July 4, 2018.(Sakchai Lalit / AP)
A family member smiles after hearing the news that the missing 12 boys and their soccer coach have been found, in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, in northern Thailand, Monday, July 2, 2018.(Sakchai Lalit / AP)
“Everyone is safe.” With those three words posted on Facebook the daring rescue mission to extricate 12 boys and their soccer coach from the treacherous confines of a flooded cave in Thailand was complete — a grueling 18-day ordeal that claimed the life of an experienced diver and riveted people worldwide.
Thailand’s Navy SEALs, who were central to the rescue effort, celebrated the feat with a post Tuesday evening that read: “All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave,” — a reference to the boys’ soccer team. “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what.”
Eight of the boys were rescued by a team of Thai and international divers on Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday, the final four boys and their coach were guided out of the cave. Their rescue was followed a few hours later by the safe return of a medic and three SEAL divers who had stayed for days with the boys in their cramped, dry refuge.
Cheers erupted from the dozens of volunteers and journalists awaiting news of whether the intricate and high-risk rescue mission had succeeded. Helicopters transporting the boys roared overhead. People on the street cheered and clapped when ambulances ferrying them on the last leg of their journey from the cave arrived at a hospital in Chiang Rai city in far northern Thailand near the Myanmar border.
Their joy and relief was echoed around the globe by the multitude of people who had followed the long ordeal.
Payap Maiming, who helped provide food and necessities to rescue workers and journalists, noted that fact.
“I’m happy for Thais all over the country,” he said. “And actually just everyone in the world because every news channel has presented this story and this is what we have been waiting for.”
“It’s really a miracle,” Payap said. “It’s hope and faith that has brought us this success.”
Amporn Sriwichai, an aunt of rescued coach Ekkapol Chantawong, was ecstatic. “If I see him, I just want to hug him and tell him that I missed him very much,” she said.
The plight of the boys and their coach captivated much of the world — from the heart-sinking news that they were missing, to the first flickering video of the huddle of anxious yet smiling boys when they were found by a pair of British divers 10 days later. The group had entered the sprawling Tham Luang cave to go exploring after soccer practice on June 23, but monsoon rains soon filled the tight passageways, blocking their escape.
Each of the boys, ages 11 to 16 and with no diving experience, was guided out by a pair of divers in the three-day high-stakes operation. The route, in some places just a crawl space, had oxygen canisters positioned at regular intervals to refresh each team’s air supply.
Highlighting the dangers, a former Thai Navy SEAL died Friday while replenishing the canisters.
Cave-diving experts had warned diving the youngsters out was potentially too risky. But Thai officials, acutely aware the monsoon rains could trap the boys for months, seized a window of opportunity provided by relatively mild weather. A massive effort to pump out water made the winding passageways more navigable. And the confidence of the diving team, and expertise specific to the cave, grew after its first successful mission Sunday.
“We did something nobody thought possible,” Chiang Rai province acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, leader of the rescue effort, said at a celebratory news conference.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, speaking Tuesday before the final rescue was completed, said the boys were given an anti-anxiety medication to help with their perilous removal from the cave.
Asked at a news conference in Bangkok if the boys had been sedated, Prayuth said: “Who would chloroform them? If they’re chloroformed, how could they come out? It’s called anxiolytic, something to make them not excited, not stressed.”
Prayuth said the Tham Luang cave would be closed for some time to make it safe for visitors.
The first eight boys brought out were doing well and were in good spirits at the hospital. They received a treat on Tuesday: bread with chocolate spread that they had requested.
Jedsada Chokdumrongsuk, permanent secretary at the Public Health Ministry, said the boys rescued Sunday were able to eat normal food by Tuesday, though they couldn’t yet take the spicy dishes favored by many Thais.
Two of the boys possibly have a lung infection but all eight are generally “healthy and smiling,” he said.
“The kids are footballers, so they have high immune systems,” Jedsada told a news conference. “Everyone is in high spirits and is happy to get out. But we will have a psychiatrist evaluate them.”
It could be at least a week before they can be released from the hospital, he said.
For now the boys were in isolation to try to keep them safe from infections by outsiders. But family members have seen at least some of the boys from behind a glass barrier.
It was clear doctors were taking a cautious approach. Jedsada 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.”
If medical tests show no dangers after another two days, parents will be able to enter the isolation area dressed in sterilized clothing, staying 2 meters (yards) away from the boys, said another public health official, Tosthep Bunthong.
John Tangkitcharoenthawon, a local village chairman, was bursting with happiness over the successful rescue.
“If this place had a roof, the morale has gone straight through it,” he said.
President Donald Trump joined those paying tribute to the rescuers.
“On behalf of the United States, congratulations to the Thai Navy SEALs and all on the successful rescue of the 12 boys and their coach from the treacherous cave in Thailand,” he tweeted. “Such a beautiful moment — all freed, great job!”
One of soccer’s most popular teams, Manchester United, expressed its relief over the rescue and invited the boys and their coach, as well as those who saved them, to come see the team play on their home ground this season.
A message posted on the English Premier League club’s Twitter account said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected. We would love to welcome the team from Wild Boars Football Club and their rescuers to Old Trafford this coming season.”
The international soccer federation, FIFA, had already invited the boys to attend the World Cup final in Russia this Sunday. However, doctors treating the boys said it was too soon for them to make the trip.
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