The two-week ordeal for the Thai soccer team trapped in a flooded cave ended Tuesday, with the last four boys and their coach guided out by a team of divers.
All 12 boys, age 11-16, along with their 25-year-old trainer, Ekkapol Chantawong, were rescued after a momentous effort on the part of the Thai authorities and an international team of divers, engineers, and medical experts.
Rescuers raced to save the remaining members of the trapped team Tuesday, as heavy rain lashed the mountains of Chiang Rai province overnight.
Despite the weather, authorities said conditions were OK for the rescue effort to continue and divers reentered the Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex at 10.08 a.m. local time (11.08 p.m. Monday ET).
Six hours later, the first of the remaining boys emerged, followed in quick succession by the rest of the stranded party. All were immediately taken by ambulance to hospital in Chiang Rai for assessment after spending more than two weeks underground.
Tuesday’s rescue mission comes after four boys were successfully extricated Sunday, and four more Monday, by divers guiding them along the treacherous two-mile route.
The eight boys rescued before Tuesday are in a good condition, according to doctors, though they will not be allowed physical contact with their families until blood tests show they are clear of infectious diseases.
“All eight are in good health, no fever, everyone is in a good mental state,” Jedsada Chokdamrongsuk, permanent secretary of the public health ministry, told reporters at Chiang Rai hospital.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha revealed that the boys were medicated for the trip, but with anti-anxiety drugs not anaesthetic. He then revealed it was the same medication he takes when shooting guns.
One of the divers, Ivan Karadzic, praised the boys — all aged between 11 and 16 — for their calmness in such an extreme situation.
“They are being forced to do something that no kid has ever done before. It is not in any way normal for kids to do cave diving aged 11,” Karadzic told the BBC. “They are diving in something that is considered an extremely hazardous environment, in zero visibility, the only light in there is the torches you bring yourself. We were obviously very afraid of any kind of panic. Then there is multiple equipment malfunctions you can imagine. I cannot understand how cool these small kids are ... Incredibly strong kids.”
While the international rescue team of divers, doctors and engineers have been praised for their bravery and commitment, one offer of help has been politely declined.
Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk had traveled to the cave site personally to deliver a submersible rescue pod that he and his team at SpaceX had re-engineered from rocket parts.
However, Narongsak Osatanakorn, who is heading up the rescue operation dismissed Musk’s solution during a press conference Tuesday. “Although his technology is good and sophisticated it’s not practical for this mission.”
Musk did however get a personal thank you from Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who said he was “very touched that Mr. Musk had personally traveled to Chiang Rai province to offer assistance, especially with his ingenious solution.”
Cover image: Thai divers carry supplies as rescue operations continue for 12 boys and their coach trapped at Tham Luang cave at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 5, 2018. (YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)