All 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped for more than two weeks deep inside a flooded Thai cave have been rescued, marking a successful end to a perilous mission that gripped the world.
“The 12 Wild Boars and coach have emerged from the cave and they are safe,” the Thai navy SEAL unit said on its official Facebook page.
The team and their coach got trapped on June 23 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 team, hungry and huddled in darkness in a partly flooded chamber several kilometres inside the complex, on Monday last week.
After pondering for days how to get the 13 out, a rescue operation was launched on Sunday when four of the boys were brought out, tethered to rescue divers.
Another four were rescued on Monday and the last four boys and the coach were brought out on Tuesday night (AEST).
Rescuer Suthee Sommart, who had been working in a team scouring for cave openings, said it was mission accomplished.
“This mission is very special,” he said.
“We have made history.”
Now they are out, concerns are set to focus on the physical and mental toll of the ordeal.
Experts warned that drinking contaminated water or otherwise being exposed to bird or bat droppings in the cave could lead to dangerous infections.
They also said counselling would be needed to deal with the psychological trauma of spending so long not knowing whether they were going to survive.
But there were some promising initial signs.
Medical chiefs reported on Tuesday morning that the eight boys rescued on Sunday and Monday were in relatively good mental and physical conditions.
“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 before all 13 had been rescued.
Nevertheless, the boys would remain in quarantine in hospital until doctors were sure they had not contracted any infections from inside the cave.
Even before the final rescues, tributes began for the courage of the boys and their ability to survive the ordeal.
“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.”
US President Donald Trump tweets congratulations
US President Donald Trump hailed the rescue.
“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,” Trump said on Twitter.
“Such a beautiful moment – all freed, great job!”
Aussie rescuers to be officially thanked
Australians helping rescue the young soccer team will be officially thanked for their extraordinary work.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she was proud of the Australian team and the critical role it played in the rescue.
“Dr (Richard) Harris, for a start, has been intimately involved in the health assessment of the boys,” Ms Bishop said.
“Our Australian Federal Police divers have been part of the daisy chain of rescuers. The Navy clearance divers have also been involved.”