It took dozens of divers, hundreds of volunteers and 18 days to do it, but the rescue operation at Tham Luang cave in Thailand has succeeded.
The final stage of the extraction mission began Tuesday morning, with 19 divers dispatched to the remote cavern where the last four members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach had been sheltering since June 23.
"Twelve Boars and coach are out of the cave. Everyone is safe," read a post on the Thai navy SEAL Facebook page Tuesday night.
Soon after, another post went up: "We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave."
Their rescue was followed a few hours later by the safe return of a medic and three divers who had stayed for days with the boys in their cramped refuge in the cave. With that, the rescue operation was officially complete.
Cheers broke out from the dozens of volunteers and journalists awaiting news of whether the intricate and high-risk rescue mission had succeeded. Helicopters transporting the boys roared overhead. People on the street cheered and clapped when ambulances ferrying them on the last leg of their journey from the cave arrived at a hospital in Chiang Rai city.
Police lining the road from the entrance laughed and flashed thumbs ups at the vast numbers of news organizations from all over the world waiting for this very scene.
Onlookers cheered, "Hooyah moo pa!" -- a reference to the name of the boys' soccer team, Moo Pa, or Wild Boars.
Their joy and relief was echoed around the globe by the multitude of people who had watched the long ordeal in widely broadcast newscasts.
On Sunday and Monday, around 100 divers, medical personnel and support staff evacuated eight soccer teammates. The rescue effort involved guiding boys with little in the way of swimming skills through passageways filled with churning water.
The effort was also helped by 1,000 members of the Thai army and almost 10,000 others who facilitated everything from rides up to the cave site to meals of fried chicken, eggs and rice and noodle soups for divers, volunteers and journalists. International experts set up rescue communications, while Thai villagers set up coffee stalls and massage stations.
The operation did claim one life: Saman Gunan, a 38-year-old former navy diver who volunteered to help in the search and rescue. He died early Friday after carrying air tanks into the flooded cave, losing consciousness underwater after running out of air himself.
At certain points, the underwater crevices through which people had to squeeze were barely wide enough to accommodate an adult human body, according to Narongsak Osatanakorn, head of the search operation, and a diver who had explored the cave complex.
"We did something nobody thought possible," Narongsak said at a celebratory news conference.
In a news conference after the rescue, Narongsak said that all of the team members were safe at the hospital at Chiang Rai, the capital of the province of the same name.
"I would like to say we have good news: We got five people out safely," he said.
The eight boys pulled out by divers on Sunday and Monday were doing well and were in good spirits, a senior health official said. They were given a treat on Tuesday: bread with chocolate spread that they had requested.
They will spend at least a week warding off possible infection, according to Dr. Jesada Chokedamrongsuk of Thailand's Ministry of Public Health.
It was clear doctors were taking a cautious approach. Jedsada said they were uncertain what type of infections the boys could face "because we have never experienced this kind of issue from a deep cave."
If medical tests show no dangers after another two days, parents will be able to enter the isolation area dressed in sterilized clothing, staying 2 yards away from the boys, said another health official, Tosthep Bunthong.
In the town of Mae Sai, the abbot at the temple where the young coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, works, was overjoyed.
"I'm so happy, but it's not just for Ek and the team," said the abbot, Prayuth Jetiyanukarn. "The whole world has been watching over these 18 days and they are celebrating with us."
Amporn Sriwichai, Ekkapol's aunt, was ecstatic. "If I see him, I just want to hug him and tell him that I missed him very much," she said. "That is the first thing I will do." She has cared for the young man since his parents died when he was 10.
Among those rooting for their rescue were world leaders, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and billionaire inventor Elon Musk, who ordered his team of engineers to build a "kid-sized submarine" made out of rocket parts that would be able to move the boys through the cave's narrow passageways.
President Donald Trump joined those paying tribute to the rescuers.
"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," he tweeted. "Such a beautiful moment -- all freed, great job!"
Information for this article was contributed by staff members of The New York Times; by Kaweewit Kaewjinda and Stephen Wright of The Associated Press; and by Shibani Mahtani, Panaporn Wutwanich, Timothy McLaughlin, Steve Hendrix and Brian Murphy of The Washington Post.
Onlookers cheer Tuesday in Thailand’s Chiang Rai city at the news that the last of the soccer team members and their coach were rescued after being trapped deep in a flooded cave complex for more than two weeks.
A Section on 07/11/2018
Print Headline: Rescuers pull it off; all out of cave