A PERILOUS mission to rescue 12 Thai boys and their football coach from a treacherous flooded cave finished in triumph and euphoria yesterday as the last group was helped to safety.
The operation ended an ordeal that claimed the life of an experienced volunteer diver and gripped people around the world for more than two weeks.
Cheers erupted among volunteers and journalists as news of the mission’s success was announced by Thailand’s navy Seals, who led the rescue effort.
‘We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All 13 of the Wild Boars football team are now out of the cave,’ the Seals said on their Facebook page. ‘Everyone is safe.’
The youngsters became trapped on June 23 while exploring the cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai when a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.
Eight were rescued by a team of 18 Thai and international divers on Sunday and Monday, and the remaining boys and their 25-year-old coach were all brought out safely yesterday. Four divers and one medic who had stayed with the boys also made it out.
Payap Maiming, 40, who helped provide food for rescue workers, said: ‘I’m happy for Thais and for everyone across the world because every news channel presented this story. Hope and faith have brought us this success.’
The boys are likely to be kept in hospital for a week for tests for possible infections. But after they have recovered, they are going to be sent to a monastery for up to a month.
Families revealed that they made the ‘bargain’ at a Buddhist site when they were still missing. Dad Somboon Kaewwongwan said: ‘We prayed to the goddess and to the Buddha to look after our kids in the cave, and to help them get out safely.’
There was also a message from England’s World Cup defender Kyle Walker. He said on Twitter: ‘Amazing news that all of the Thai kids are out of the cave safely! I’d like to send shirts to them! Is there anyone who can help with an address?’ Manchester United invited them to Old Trafford to see a match.
Seven divers in the rescue team were from the UK, including Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, who were the first to reach the group last week.