Divers in northern Thailand have rescued all 12 boys and their football coach from flooded caves, 17 days after they got trapped underground.
Their plight and the massive, dangerous three-day-long operation to free them gripped the world’s attention.
The group got trapped on 23 June after heavy rains flooded their way back out.
They were found by British divers last week, huddled in darkness on a ledge amid fears they could be forced to stay there for months until water receded.
There were cheers as a daring rescue operation involved dozens of divers and hundreds of other rescue workers came to an end on Tuesday evening.
In an indication of how dangerous the journey out was, a former Thai navy diver died in the caves on Friday. Saman Gunan was returning from a mission to provide the group with air tanks when he ran out of oxygen.
Aged between about 11 and 17, the members of the Wild Boars football team had entered the Tham Luang cave system in the province of Chiang Rai during an excursion with their coach.
Confirming the completion of the rescue operation, the Thai Navy Seals Facebook page announced: “All 12 Wild Boars and coach have been extracted from the cave. All are safe.”
And at the house just below the mountains where the men who run the Wild Boars meet, there was laughter, shouts and cheers – and people shook hands in a very un-Thai way, says the BBC Jonathan Head.
By Nick Beake, at Chiang Rai hospital
This is the moment Mission Impossible became Mission Accomplished.
Families in Chiang Rai gathered at the hospital to watch the final ambulances bring in their precious cargo. Some said they couldn’t believe it, others said they had never lost hope. All wore the brightest of smiles.
Up on the eighth floor, doctors – who declared this morning that the first eight boys to be rescued are doing well – will now be examining their remaining team mates and their coach. Psychologists will be assessing the impact a fortnight trapped underground has had.
The Wild Boars footballers went into the Tham Luang cave as a team. They survived as a team. And tonight, at the end of a remarkable 72-hour rescue, they are together as a team once again.
How were they rescued?
A team of 90 expert divers – 40 from Thailand and 50 from overseas – worked in the Tham Luang caves.
They guided the boys and their coach through darkness and submerged passageways towards the mouth of the cave system.
Getting to and from the trapped group was an exhausting round trip, even for experienced divers.
The process included a mixture of walking, wading, climbing and diving along guide ropes.
Wearing full-face masks, which are easier for novice divers than traditional respirators, each boy was accompanied by two divers, who also carried his air supply.
The toughest part was about halfway out at a section named “T-Junction”, which was so tight that the divers had to take off their air tanks to get through.
Beyond that a cavern – called Chamber 3 – was turned into a forward base for the divers.
There the boys could rest before making the last, easier walk out to the entrance. They were then taken to hospital in Chiang Rai.
The last of the rescue team – three Thai Navy Seals and a doctor – emerged from the cave complex some hours after the last member of the trapped group was released.
Who are the boys and their coach?
Details have emerged of members of the team and their coach.
Captain Duganpet Promtep, 13, is described as a motivator and highly respected by his teammates. He had apparently been scouted by several Thai professional clubs.
Myanmar-born Adul Sam-on, 14, speaks several languages, and was the only team member to be able to communicate with British divers when they were first discovered.
It was 17-year-old Peerapat Sompiangjai’s birthday when the group became trapped in the cave. The snacks the boys brought with them to celebrate are likely to have helped them survive their ordeal.
Assistant coach Ekapol Chantawong, 25, was said to be the weakest of the group when they were found, as he had reportedly refused to eat any of the food and gave it instead to the boys.
What next for the boys?
The first eight boys to be rescued – on Sunday and Monday – are still in hospital but said to be in good mental and physical health.
They have undergone X-rays and blood tests, and will remain under observation in hospital for at least seven days.
Their parents have been allowed to see them through a glass window at the hospital, but they are being quarantined.
Drinking contaminated water in the cave or being exposed to bird or bat droppings in the cave could lead to dangerous infections, experts say.
The boys lost weight during their time in the caves and are keen to eat. They are said to have requested a favourite pork dish, bread and chocolate, but solid food will have to be reintroduced slowly to prevent digestive upset.
They will also need to wear sunglasses for a few days until their eyes readjust to the brighter light.
Offers of hospitality for the football team have come in from around the world:
- Global football body Fifa offered the 12 young footballers tickets for Sunday’s World Cup final in Moscow, but they are too weak to travel.
- Portuguese club Benfica has invited the boys and their coach an all-expenses-paid week at its training academy.
- Manchester United – the English club several of the boys support – has offered them the chance to attend a game.
- England’s Kyle Walker and Jack Butland have offered to send kit to the boys after one of them was pictured wearing an England shirt inside the caves.