Cave rescue: Boys and football coach free from Tham Luang

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Divers in northern Thailand have rescued all 12 boys and their football coach from flooded caves, 17 days after they got trapped underground.

The plight of the group and the massive, dangerous operation to free them has gripped the world’s attention.

The first of the boys were brought out on Sunday but the last of the group were only freed on Tuesday evening.

They got stuck deep inside the caves on 23 June after heavy rains caused flooding and cut off their route out.

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.

After they were found by British divers last week, huddled in darkness on a ledge and cut off from the outside world for nine days, the race began to get them out before the weather deteriorated even further.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

 

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