All 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped for more than two weeks deep inside a flooded Thai cave have been rescued, a Thai navy SEAL unit has confirmed.
The announcement brings a close to a perilous mission that has gripped the world for several days.
Announcing the successful completion of its nail-biting rescue, the Thai navy SEAL unit said on its official Facebook page: “The 12 Wild Boars and coach have emerged from the cave and they are safe.”
The soccer team and their coach got trapped on June 23 after monsoon floods left them trapped as they explored the cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai.
British divers found the group of 13, hungry and huddled in darkness on a muddy bank in a partly flooded chamber several kilometres inside the complex, on Monday last week.
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After several days, 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.
“I want to tell the coach thank you so much for helping the boys survive this long,” said one Chiang Rai woman wearing a traditional dress, tears brimming in her eyes.
“I remember all of their faces, especially the youngest one. He’s the smallest one and he doesn’t have as much experience as the others… I felt like he was one of my own children and I wanted him to come home.”
Seven divers in the rescue team were from the UK, including Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, who were the first to reach the group last week.
Celebrations that the mission was completed successfully are likely to be tinged with sadness over the loss of a former Thai navy diver who died last Friday while on a re-supply mission inside the cave in support of the rescue.
While they were trapped, the boys were invited by FIFA to the World Cup Final if they were rescued in time.
A letter sent to the president of the Football Association of Thailand invited the youngsters and their coach to the final in Russia if they were also healthy enough to travel.
U.S. 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!”