The entire Thai football team trapped in a flooded cave for more than two weeks has been freed following a dangerous rescue operation that has gripped the world.
Families are rejoicing after the last four boys were seen being carried from the entrance of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave on stretchers on Tuesday.Their 25-year-old coach has also been rescued this afternoon after completing the perilous swim to safety.
The third and final phase of the rescue operation began on Tuesday morning, with 19 divers involved in guiding members of the young football team through dark, narrow, underwater passages.
The daring operation, which saw one Thai Navy SEAL diver die on Friday, has been followed closely by people across the planet and saw American entrepreneur Elon Musk fly to Thailand with a mini submarine and an offer to help.
The rescued boys, aged 11-16, have all been offered tickets to the World Cup final by Fifa but are unlikely to be deemed healthy enough by Sunday.
Jedsada Chokdumrongsuk, permanent secretary at the Public Health Ministry, said the first four boys rescued are now able to eat normal food.
Two of them possibly have a lung infection but all eight are generally “healthy and smiling,” he said.
Family members have seen at least some of the boys from behind a glass isolation barrier, and Mr Jedsada said doctors may let the boys walk around their beds on Tuesday.
Mr 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.
The second group of four rescued on Monday are aged 12 to 14.
Monday’s rescue effort took about nine hours, two fewer than the day before, in a sign of growing confidence and expertise.
The boys and their coach went exploring in the massive cave on June 23 after football practice, and were cut off when a rainstorm flooded the cave.
A massive international search operation was launched and it took 10 days to locate the boys, who were found hungry and huddled on a dry slope deep in the complex.
The only way to reach them was by navigating dark and tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents, as well as oxygen-depleted air.
Getting out via the same route was the only feasible option, but a high-risk one, Thai officials said. Experienced cave rescue experts consider an underwater escape a last resort, especially with people untrained in diving, as the boys were.
The search and rescue operation has riveted people both in Thailand and internationally, with journalists from across the globe travelling to this town along the border with Burma to report on the ordeal.
But the death on Friday of a former Thai navy Seal underlined the risks. The diver was working in a volunteer capacity and died on a mission to place air canisters along the passage to where the boys were waiting, necessary for divers to safely travel the five- to six-hour route.
Saman Kunan became unconscious while on the return journey from “chamber three” of the cave complex. His diving buddy was not able to revive him. His body has been taken to Bangkok airport and he will receive a royal-sponsored funeral.
The football coach trapped in the cave with boys has apologised to their parents in a letter he and the team have sent out through divers.
The 25-year-old coach said: “To the parents of all the kids, right now the kids are all fine, the crew are taking good care. I promise I will care for the kids as best as possible. I want to say thanks for all the support and I want to apologise to the parents.”
The boys also wrote they were doing well and missing their families.