Thai Navy SEALs say the last members of the trapped football team and their coach were rescued late Tuesday, ending an ordeal that lasted more than two weeks. The operation also claimed the life of a Thai rescue volunteer.
Thai rescue officials on Tuesday said the last of the 12 boys and their football coach were brought out from a flooded cave in the north of the country.
The last two meant five people were rescued on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, three more people were brought out, officials said, bringing to 11 at that point the number saved and raising hopes all members of the young football team who became trapped 18 days ago would survive.
The last two were evacuated through a claustrophobic network of tunnels that in some places were completely filled with water.
The hoped-for final chapter ended an ordeal that has gripped the world came after elite foreign divers and Thai Navy SEALs escorted eight members of the "Wild Boars" football team out of the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand on Sunday and Monday.
The 12 boys, aged from 11 to 16, and their coach, ventured into the cave on June 23 after football practice and got caught deep inside when heavy rains caused flooding that trapped them on a muddy ledge.
They spent nine harrowing days trapped in darkness until two British divers found them.
TRT World's John Joe Regan has more from Chang Rai province where the rescue took place.
Death of a volunteer
Authorities then struggled to devise a safe plan to get them out, mulling ideas such as drilling holes into the mountain or waiting months until monsoon rains ended and they could walk out.
With oxygen levels in their chamber falling to dangerous levels and complete flooding of the cave system possible, rescuers pushed ahead with the least-worst option of having divers escort them out through the extremely narrow and water-filled tunnels.
During the multinational rescue operation, Samarn Kunan, 38, a former member of the Thai SEAL team, died inside the cave on Friday (July 6).
Kunan and a fellow volunteer were on their way back from placing oxygen tanks deep inside the cave when he fell unconscious and efforts by his partner to resuscitate him were futile, the SEAL unit said.
Three members of the SEAL unit and an army doctor, who has stayed with the boys since they were found, were the last people due to come out of the cave, the unit said later.
Experts had warned of possible long-lasting damage from the ordeal, either through psychological trauma or infections caught in the cave.
Jesada said the group had been given x-rays and blood tests, adding that two presented suspected symptoms of pneumonia but were given antibiotics and were "in a normal state."
All eyes on the operation
The ups and downs of the rescue bid has entranced Thailand and also fixated a global audience, drawing support from celebrities as varied as US President Donald Trump, football star Lionel Messi and tech guru Elon Musk.
The emergence of the second batch of four boys on Monday evening was greeted with a simple "Hooyah" by the SEAL team on their Facebook page, an exclamation that lit up Thai social media.
Positive medical reports on the rescued group further fueled the sense of joy and optimism.
Earlier on Tuesday, Osottanakorn said the rescue mission began at 0300 GMT (10:00 am local time) and involves 19 divers.
Heavy rains lashed the northern Chiang Rai region late on Monday and a steady downpour continued on Tuesday morning, raising fears the rain could hamper rescue efforts.
Rescued boys in 'good heath'
The eight boys rescued earlier are in good health overall and the first four rescued boys are eating well, officials said.
"All eight rescued boys today are in good health, none have a fever," Jesada Chokedamrongsuk, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Health, told a news conference in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand.
However, Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, a senior official at the same ministry, said preliminary blood checks indicated "all kids showed signs of infection."
The group would be kept under observation in hospital for a week.
"The kids are footballers, are strong and have high immunity," Jesada said when asked why they survived so long.
Boys staying in hospital
Jesada said the group can eat, move about, and talk.
"They (all the boys) will have to stay in the hospital for one week to wait for their results and to see if anything changes," he said.
Lertwilairattanapong said the first four boys taken out on Sunday are "asking for chocolate. We can see that everything is ok as they're eating well," he said.
The boys remain in quarantine but some of their parents have been able to see their children through the glass.
Honking car horns and live "selfie" videos - is how some Thais in the northern city of Chiang Rai and beyond celebrated after news emerged that the entire team had been rescued.
"This is an important event in my life. It is something I will remember," said a visibly emotional Rachapol Ngamgrabuan, an official at Chiang Rai's provincial press office.
"There were times when I cried," he added. "Happy. Very happy to see all Thai people love each other."
Thais have been glued to their televisions, mobile phones and computer screens following every twist and turn of the boys' story, as have many people overseas.
Thais turned to social media on Tuesday to show their elation using the hashtag #Hooyah, a word used by the navy to build morale. Other hashtags included #Heroes and #Thankyou.
"You are our heroes!" wrote some, captioning cartoons showing the boys and their coach with dozens of rescue workers, volunteers and military personnel.
Thank you so much, Mr. Saman Kunan🙏👼 No words nor deeds can describe how truly thankful and grateful we are for you.— 🐈 (@ffiooona) July 10, 2018
We achieved something that we once thought was impossible :''')#Hooyah #ThaiCaveRescue 🐗 pic.twitter.com/TeVFUm6BUR