The remaining five members of the "Wild Boars" football team have been brought out of the cave where they had been for 17 days. The risky operation involved a team of international divers and Thai Navy SEALs.
Rescue workers have successfully brought out all the members of a local young football team from a cave in northern Thailand, ensuring a happy ending to a 17-day ordeal that had gripped the world.
Earlier in the day, authorities sent rescue teams into Tham Luang Nang Non cave for the third and final stage of an against-the-odds operation to extract the remaining members of the "Wild Boars" football team.
Skilled divers navigating tight, winding tunnels successfully brought eight boys from the flooded cave complex during missions on Sunday and Monday.
Tuesday's push aimed to free the four remaining children and their 25-year-old coach.
"We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what," a post on the Navy SEALs Facebook page read. "All the 13 Wild Boars are now out of the cave."
"The mission has been accomplished," said Suthee Sommart, a rescuer who had worked with the diving team scouring for cave openings. "I never lost hope. We always knew they would be alive. This mission is very special. We have made history."
The miracle rescue
The 12 boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their coach became trapped on June 23 when they ventured into the cave and were cut off by floodwaters. Their disappearance triggered a frantic search as rescuers raced rising water levels at the start of the monsoon season. A British diving team found them after nine days.
However, the initial euphoria over the team's discovery was quickly muted and authorities struggled to devise a plan safely to extract them. With monsoon rains threatening to flood the cave in the coming days, rescuers decided that the best and most immediate option was to have divers escort the boys through the labyrinth of underwater tunnels.
The route, however, proved to be difficult even for experienced divers. Last Friday, an ex-Navy SEAL died while placing oxygen tanks along the 4.7-kilometer (2.9-mile) evacuation route.
The boys had no previous diving experience, so rescue divers were forced to show them how to use a mask and oxygen tank while swimming under water.
'Happy to get out'
Cheers erupted at a local government office where volunteers and journalists had gathered awaiting updates from the rescue.
Authorities are keeping the rescued boys away from their parents for fear of infection. However, senior health official Jedsada Chokdumrongsuk said all of them are "healthy and smiling."
"The kids are footballers so they have high immune systems," he added. "Everyone is in high spirits and is happy to get out. But we will have a psychiatrist to evaluate them."
The four boys who were recovered on Sunday are now eating normal food, Jedsada said.
Still, health officials were wary of possible infections "because we have never experienced this kind of issue from a deep cave."
The children would likely spend another week in the hospital, according to the official.
News of the Thai boys' rescue drew cheers of joy and relief the world over.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted: "Such great news coming out of Thailand. So much to admire: the perseverance shown by the brave boys and their coach, and ability and determination from the rescuers."
US President Donald Trump joined in the celebrations, tweeting "Such a beautiful moment — all freed, great job!" while British Prime Minister Theresa May saluted the "bravery of all those involved" in the rescue.
Elsewhere in the UK, football club Manchester United invited the Wild Boars and the team of rescuers to attend a match at Old Trafford in the coming season.
dm, ap/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)