TWELVE young boys and their football coach, feared dead after being trapped in caves for nine days, have been found alive and safe in Thailand.
The group were tracked down by naval special forces assisted by three British divers.
The relieved boys — who became trapped when the caves flooded as they explored — were yet to be brought to safety last night.
But worried family members camping out at the entrance celebrated as photos of them sitting on a ledge were released. ‘All are safe. Our first mission is accomplished,’ revealed Narongsak Osatthanakorn, the governor of Chiang Rai province. ‘Now we are trying to get them out. We found them safe but the operation isn’t over.’
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, all play for the Moo Pa (Wild Boar) football team and dream of one day becoming professionals. They were cut off in the Tham Luang Nang Non caves on June 23 during a day trip with coach Ekkapol Janthawong, 25.
The group survived the rising waters by making their way to the ledge deep underground, about 400 yards from a chamber nicknamed Pattaya Beach. It had been hoped they might have found safety there but the rescuers faced a battle to reach it in the face of treacherous conditions.
Bill Whitehouse, vice-chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council, said two of the Britons involved had been ‘taking the lead’.
‘They were diving through the flooded passages, leaving a guide for others to follow,’ he told the BBC.
After the group was found, a Thai navy Seal posted a video in which a Briton is heard asking: ‘How many of you?’ When one of the party yells ‘13’, he replies: ‘Brilliant!’
The boys were being given food to help them regain their strength. Nurses and doctors dived into the caves under supervision to check on them as troops continued to pump out water.
The group needed to be shown how to use breathing apparatus for the trip out, with waters still rising and deep mud also posing a challenge. ‘If the doctors say their physical condition is strong enough, they will take them out from the cave,’ Mr Osatthanakorn said.