All 12 boys and their football coach have been successfully rescued from a cave in northern Thailand after more than two weeks trapped underground.
“The 12 Wild Boars and coach have emerged from the cave and they are safe,” the Thai navy Seal unit said on its official Face book page. It added: “Hooyah.”
The final day of the operation began just after 10am on Tuesday as the first eight boys, freed in operations on Sunday and Monday, recuperated at a hospital in the nearest city, Chiang Rai.
The “Wild Boars” soccer team and their coach got trapped on 23 June while exploring the cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai after soccer practice and a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.
British divers found the 13, hungry and huddled in darkness on a muddy bank in a partly flooded chamber last week.
Torrential rain struck the site on Monday evening and it continued through into the morning, but authorities said preparations for the final rescue mission were unaffected.
“You have seen the rain so you might be wondering – preparation for the third operation has been under way since early morning,” said Narongsak Osatanakorn, the head of the joint command centre coordinating the operation.
“If everything goes right, we will see four kids and a doctor and three Seals that have stayed with the kids will all come out,” he said. “Four plus one coach, so it’s five.”
The perilous rescue had gripped the world but celebrations will be tinged with sadness over the loss of a former Thai navy diver who died on Friday while on a re-supply mission inside the cave.
The first four boys to be freed were reunited with their parents on Monday night through a glass window. Public health officials would decide on Tuesday whether the second batch could see their families.
“[The parents] visited them through a window due to disease control,” Osatanakorn said. “If the lab results are negative – no infection or any disease – they can visit but they have to wear [medical] gown, face mask and hair cap.”
He said they would need to keep at least 2 meters away from their boys for at least 48 hours, until “we are sure there is no infection, and then they can visit them normally”. No boys would be discharged for at least seven days.
Jesada Chokedamrongsuk, a physician from the Thai ministry of public health, told a separate press conference at the Chiang Rai hospital that the eight patients were cheerful.
Two boys among the first group to be freed, who he said were aged between 14 and 16, had shown possible signs of pneumonia and all had low temperatures when they arrived on Monday night.
“Now they have no fever and can do their normal activities,” Chokedamrongsuk said. “They can have normal food but we are making sure it is easily digestible, not spicy or too strongly flavoured.”
The boys had asked for chocolate spread on bread, which the hospital had provided, he said. They were still wearing sunglasses as a precaution while their eyes adjusted to the light, he added.
“For the second lot of patients arriving last night, whose ages range from 12 to 14, they arrived with very low body temperature, and one of them had a low heart rate,” he said.
“Doctors have treated the boys and now all of them are OK and cheerful. They talk normally. No fever. We’ve started giving them ‘medical food’ this morning.”
He said the second group of four boys would undergo detailed testing of their eyes, nutrition levels and mental health, with blood samples to be sent to Bangkok to test for any infectious diseases.
“All of them have an increase in white cells in the blood, which indicates infections, so we have given them antibiotics as a precaution,” Chokedamrongsuk said.
Overnight, the entrepreneur Elon Musk posted on social media that he had personally delivered a child-sized submarine to the site which he has developed to assist with the operation, but it is unlikely to play a role.
“Although his technology is good and sophisticated, it’s not practical for this mission,” Osatanakorn said after the press conference.
Osatanakorn announced the start of the latest rescue mission to applause and cheers in the local government courtyard that has become a centre for Thai volunteers and the world’s media.
The mood was in stark contrast to the glum atmosphere at the site last week, especially after the announcement of the death on Friday of the former Thai navy Seal Saman Kunan, who died while placing air tanks in the cave.
The Seals, the key force in the operation, posted on their official Face book page that Tuesday would be a longer day than Monday. “But we’ll look forward to celebrating the success. Hooyah”.