MAE SAI, THAILAND – All 12 boys and their soccer coach have been rescued from a Thai cave after an 18-day ordeal, the Thai Navy SEALs said in a Facebook post, adding they were “safe”.
“All 12 ‘Wild Boars’ and coach have been extracted from the cave,” the post said, adding “all are safe” and signing off with a simple “Hooyah”.
Cheers erupted at a local government office where dozens of volunteers and journalists were awaiting news of whether the intricate and high-risk rescue mission had succeeded. Helicopters taking the boys to a hospital roared overhead.
The boys, aged from 11 to 16, and their coach, ventured into the cave after football practice on June 23 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 the group sheltering on a dry patch about 4 kilometers from the entrance of the cave on July 2.
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 U.S. President Donald Trump, soccer 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.
“All eight 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.
“Incredibly strong kids. Unbelievable almost.”