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Coach could be left in Thai cave ALONE: Divers say they can now rescue the last four boys - but their 25-year-old chaperone faces ANOTHER night in his underground prison
Thailand has erupted in celebration following the news that all 12 youth football players and their coach trapped in a flooded cave for more than two weeks have been rescued - in an astonishing against-the-odds mission that captivated the world.
Authorities had been mulling ideas such as drilling holes into the mountain or waiting months until monsoon rains ended and they could walk out, with the rescue chief at one point dubbing the efforts to save them 'Mission Impossible'.
In the end, a team of specialist divers, lead by British experts and Thai Navy SEALs, entered the cave and 'effectively pulled' the boys through several miles of waterfilled tunnels one by one - despite many of them not even knowing how to swim.
The final four school boys and their coach, who had been trapped in darkness in Tham Luang Cave complex for 18 days, were today carried out on stretchers as the three-day operation came to an end.
Residents in Chiang Rai, the city closest to the caves, took to the streets to celebrate, with drivers honking car horns and pedestrians dancing outside the hospital where the Wild Boar FC players are now recovering.
Three cheers for 12 boars: People react near a hospital, where the children's football team members are treated after being rescued, in Chiang Rai
Celebrations: Family members and ordinary Thais who have been following the developments of the disappearance and miraculous rescue celebrate in the streets after the news that all 13 are out of the cave
Hooray! Volunteers who have been helping out at the Tham Luang cave complex raise their hands in the air after the last boy and their coach is air lifted to hospital
'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, who have been glued to their televisions, mobile phones and computer screens following every twist and turn of the story, took to social media to show their elation.
'You are our heroes!' wrote some, captioning cartoons showing the boys and their coach with dozens of rescue workers, volunteers and military personnel.
The only people who remain to be evacuated from the cave are four Thai Navy SEALs - including a medic - who stayed with the group since they were discovered huddled together on a muddy ledge 2,620ft (800 metres) underground on July 2.
The Thai Navy SEALs confirmed the success of the operation on their official Facebook page, writing: '12 wild boars and coach out of the cave. Everyone is safe. Now just waiting to pick up four frogs [Navy SEALs]. Hooyah.'
The later added: 'We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave.'
All smiles: Many Thais have been following every twist and turn of the story of the missing Wild Boar FC players
Street party: Onlookers watch and cheer as ambulances transport one of the rescued schoolboys from a helipad nearby to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital
Rescued: A helicopter takes one of the boys rescued on Tuesday from the Tham Luang Cave near Mae Sai to hospital. Strapped to the stretcher, his head is held in a protective neck-brace and he is wearing sun-glasses shielding his eyes from the light
All out: One of the final four boys, seem wearing a hat and sunglasses while strapped to a stretcher, is being secured in a helicopter taking him to a hospital in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand
The celebrations has spread far beyond the Thai borders, with the rescue efforts praised by world leaders including British Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump.
'On behalf of the United States, congratulations to the Thai Navy SEALs and all on the successful rescue of the 12 boys and their coach from the treacherous cave in Thailand. Such a beautiful moment - all freed, great job!,' President Trump wrote in a tweet.
U.S. billionaire Elon Musk, whose company built a child-sized submarine in the hopes it could help the evacuation and who visited the rescue camp earlier today, also congratulated the rescuers and praised the brave Wild Boar FC players.
'Great news that they made it out safely. Congratulations to an outstanding rescue team! Continue to be amazed by the bravery, resilience & tenacity of kids & diving team in Thailand. Human character at its best.'
Theresa May also took to Twitter to express that she was 'delighted to see the successful rescue of those trapped in the caves in Thailand. The world was watching and will be saluting the bravery of all those involved.'
Well done from the U.S: Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, whose company built a child-sized submarine in the hopes it could help the evacuation, and President Donald Trump both congratulated the rescue team
British Prime Minister Theresa May and Iceland’s Prime Minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir also welcomed the news today
Invitation: Manchester United invited the 12 players, their coach and their rescuers to come watch them play at Old Trafford
The young football players, who will have to be forced to turn down an invitation from FIFA to watch the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday due to their health and need to recover, have today been invited to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United play.
The British football club wrote on their official Facebook page that they would be 'We would be honoured to welcome the team from the Wild Boars Football Club and their rescuers to Old Trafford this coming season.'
England and Manchester United player Kyle Walker also took to the social network, asking for help in tracking the Wild Boar FC's address so he could send then football shirts.
He wrote: 'Amazing news that all of the Thai kids are out of the cave safely! I'd like to send out shirts to them! Is there anyone who can help with an address?'
There he goes: A helicopter believed to be carrying one of the rescued boys from the flooded cave lands in Chiang Rai followed by ambulances
Hospital arrivals: An ambulance transporting some of the final four approaches the hospital in the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai after being rescued in Tham Luang cave
The 12 boys and their coach became trapped during a visit on June 23 when monsoon floods blocked the cave exit and forced them back three miles into the mountain.
They ended up stranded on a ledge, starving in the darkness, until they were found by a team of British divers over a week later.
Earlier today, while friends and families were still anxiously awaiting news of the final stages of the rescue, the wife of the Wild Boar FC's head coach - who did not go with them into the cave - shared a heartwarming video of support, showing images of the young 12 players.
'As long as you fight , as long as you believe in yourself we will go through the bad things and will succeed in life,' Thitiporn Anurakkhana wrote in the caption.
'Take lots of rest to recover your body everyone and we will have a party for you all. We’ll do soccer practice together again. I’m rooting for you. #surelyiwanttogiveeveryoneahug #keeponfightingeveryone #wildboarfamily #keeponfighting!'
All free: The wife of the Wild Boar FC's head coach - who was not in the cave - shared a video with not-before-seen images of the now-freed players
One team, one dream: Some of the players pose with coach Ekaphol Chantawong, 25, after a football game
Alive! Four Thai boys who made it out of cave in daring rescue are identified as their eight teammates and coach spend another night underground
As the second group of four finally breathed fresh air yesterday, officials admitted the youths’ football coach faced spending a night alone in the dank, dungeon-like tunnels.
Rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn refused to rule out 25-year-old Ekaphol Chantawong being left inside the cave if the four remaining pupils are rescued today, because the divers’ system of taking that many at a time was working well. ‘For safety, the best number is four,’ he said.
Meanwhile, adding to their parents’ torment, the boys are not being allowed to hug them due to infection fears. They are being quarantined in hospital but are said to be in ‘good health’.
Yesterday the British-led rescue mission resumed with four more boys from the Wild Boars football team extracted to safety through miles of claustrophobic underground tunnels. Incredibly, they could not even swim before their ordeal.
Now just four of the youngsters and their coach remain in the hellish Tham Luang cave, in northern Thailand. The 13 were trapped during a visit on June 23 when monsoon floods blocked the cave exit and forced them back three miles into the mountain – where they have stayed on a ledge starving in the darkness.
Last night, emerging from the cave complex, some of the boys were carried to a fleet of helicopters amid frenzied cheering from onlookers.
In one dramatic scene at 6.30pm, an army medic hoisted a drip while another held a monitor as a team of soldiers carried a boy on a stretcher. The youngster was wrapped in a silver space blanket to preserve what little body heat he had left. The medical team were all wearing masks to protect against infection.
That boy and at least one other had to be airlifted to Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital, where the first four children from Sunday’s rescue mission are recovering.
‘The four children from today are in good health,’ he said. ‘Doctors have told us we must be careful about the food that is given to them because they are fragile after starving for many days. They can take normal food like diluted porridge.’
Anxious parents of the first four had to wait 24 hours before being allowed to see their sons – and even then with no physical contact allowed.
Yesterday afternoon public health inspector Dr Thongchai Lertwilairattanapong said the parents of the latest foursome would be allowed to see their children in the evening but added: ‘Visitors will only be allowed to meet and talk to the patients but no hugging or touching – and they need to leave a one to two-metre distance.’
The boys are being monitored for breathing difficulties, hypothermia and an airborne lung infection known as ‘cave disease’ caused by bat and bird droppings which can be fatal if untreated.
The Thai authorities have refused to name any of the rescued boys until all of them are out.
Once again, British cave experts spearheaded yesterday’s operation which involved more than 100 divers. Seven Britons chaperoned the boys through the treacherous tunnels as part of a team that included 18 international cave divers and five elite Thai navy SEALS. Scores of other volunteer cave divers from around the world helped by delivering air refill tanks and tightening the guide rope along the route, which includes ten ‘choke points’ where the mud-clogged tunnel is terrifyingly narrow.
Friends of the British experts claimed they ‘never panic’ under water and would be keeping reassuring eye contact with the children. Wearing full-face masks, the boys either swam or were pulled along. Yesterday’s nine-hour mission – starting at 11am – was two hours shorter than Sunday’s.
A source who saw two of the four boys walk out of the cave yesterday said they looked ‘tired but healthy’, adding: ‘Imagine marathon runners. It’s like when they reach the finish line exhausted.’
Last night the Thai prime minister flew to the cave to thank the rescue squad, and said the ordeal should serve as a wake-up call to all children to avoid it happening again.
Evacuation of trapped Thai soccer team has BEGUN: Divers enter cave to retrieve children and their coach after water levels dropped to their lowest in ten days - and they could be out by tonight
Four of the 12 schoolboys trapped inside a cave in Thailand had their first breath of fresh air in two weeks after they were rescued in a dramatic operation.
The ‘masterpiece’ three-and-a-half-hour mission, led by expert British divers, saw the children being calmly guided to safety after 15 days of being stuck in their fetid underground prison.
Wearing full-face masks, the youngsters swam – for the first time in their lives – through miles of mud-clogged underwater tunnels which claimed the life of an elite Thai navy diver on Friday.
On finally emerging blinking into the daylight, the boys were hugged by their British rescuers.
They were tearfully reunited with their weeping parents – who have kept a desperate two-week vigil at the cave entrance – before being taken to hospital.
Saved: Prajak Sutham (left), 14, is also known as Note, and is known as a 'quiet but sport-loving boy'. Right: Pipat Bodhi, 15
Nattawut 'Tle' Takamsai, 11, is thought to be among the four boys rescued, according to an official quoted in the Daily Beast
The first boy out was Monhkhol Boonpiam, 13, known as Mark. Eight other young players and their 25-year-old coach of the Wild Boars football team were chosen to remain in the cavern – half a mile deep – until tomorrow
Thailand cave rescue: Diver dies while taking in supplies
The evacuation of 12 schoolboys trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand has begun and they could be out by tonight, the rescue commander announced this morning.
An extraction team of 18 international divers started their 'extremely dangerous' operation at 10am local time after the boys' anxious families were informed.
All of the youngsters and their 25-year-old coach are expected to emerge one by one from the cave as early as 9pm if everything goes to plan, Governor Narongsak told reporters on Sunday morning.
Each boy will be accompanied by two divers on the perilous 4km (2.5miles) journey through murky waters and narrow tunnels. It's understood they will be able to walk most of the way after teams drained the water level by 30cm (12ins) last night.
'Today is D-Day,' the governor who has led the rescue announced. 'The water level has reached the lowest it has been in ten days. We ask to pray that this operation is a success.
'The boys are physically and mentally fit to come out. All of the families have been told about today's operation.'
Coming home: The evacuation of 12 schoolboys trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand has begun and they could be out by tonight, the rescue commander announced on Sunday morning
Thai police stand guard near a cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach have been trapped for 16 days since June 23
Volunteers delivery free food near Tham Luang cave complex, where 12 schoolboys and their soccer coach are trapped inside a flooded cave
Family members and Buddhist monks come out from the Tham Luang cave complex as divers enter the tunnels for their mission
U.S. military personnel arrive at the Tham Luang cave complex where the extraction mission started at 10am local time
A police officer stands guard at a checkpoint outside the Tham Luang cave complex after Thailand's government instructed members of the media to move out urgently
Media staff leave the area around the entrance of the cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach have been trapped for two weeks
Police stand guard outside the Tham Luang cave complex. The youngsters will be led out of the cave one by one and taken directly to hospital
Left: Thai navy seals posted this image on their Facebook page showing two Thai divers and one international diver before starting their rescue mission. The caption reads: 'We, the Thai navy Seals, along with the international diver team, are ready to bring the soccer team home!' Right: A rescue worker moves oxygen
Journalists and non-essential personnel are ordered to leave the cave site and surrounding roads as the rescue operation begins to evacuate the trapped soccer team
Volunteers give massage for a solider near Tham Luang cave complex, where 12 schoolboys and their soccer coach are trapped
A female relative shows a collage of pictures before family and friends begin prayers for the 12 schoolboys and their coach
Today we are most ready. Today is D-Day. Today at 10am, 13 foreign divers went in to extract the children, along with five [Thai] navy Seals.
As we look at the weather forecast, a storm is coming and torrential rain is expected, then our 100 per cent readiness will decrease and we will have to pump the water out again
The kids are very determined and they are in high spirits. All 13 kids have been informed about the operation and they are ready to come out. They firmly decided to come out with us.
The families of the kids have been informed and they agree with us.
We've rehearsed [the medical preparations] for the past three to four days. We even practiced with a real kid – practicing the position of O2 tank and the marking ... I assure you that we are very ready in this mission.
I ask you all to patiently wait for news and send support and wish them success.
The youngsters will be led out of the tunnels one by one and taken directly to Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital, 57km (35miles) from the cave.
The most critical will be airlifted by helicopters while the less fragile will be transported by ambulance.
All of the boys have been told about the operation, which is being watched eagerly around the world, and they are ready to come out, the governor said.
'They are very strong and determined to come out and be reunited with their families.'
The evacuation is taking place on the 16th day of the operation. The mission got underway as the monsoon storm clouds finally burst open, with rain showers drenching the mountainous countryside.
‘This is the best day for the operation,’ the Governor said.
‘The boys were given a medical examination yesterday by a specialist doctor who confirmed that they were well enough to be evacuated.
‘If we did not carry out the mission today we might not have been able to get them out.
‘I appeal to everyone around the world who has been following the tragic case for your support for the boys and the rescuers.’
The rescue mission will continue until all of the stranded boys and their coach are safe, he said. The first boy may be out of the cave by 9pm local time but the mission could take three days.
The evacuation team is made up of 18 divers. This includes 13 specialists who have come to Thailand for the operation and 5 highly experienced Thai divers.
'This is an all-star team of divers,' Governor Narongsak said.
Thai authorities removed the media – including dozens of foreign TV networks, photographers and journalists – from the area around the entrance of the cave this morning.
A fleet of ambulances is on standby at the remote forest site and a helicopter landing strip has been hacked out of the dense jungle.
The football team and coach have been trapped in the cave for more than two weeks after a squad bonding trek went horribly wrong.
Thousands of rescuers including Thai Navy SEALs and elite British divers have been working around the clock to come up with a plan to bring the exhausted and starved boys home safely.
But with gathering clouds that have already thundered down heavy rain for 90 minutes on Saturday night, authorities are anxious to push ahead before it's too late.
'Now and in the next three or four days, the conditions are perfect (for evacuation) in terms of the water, the weather and the boys' health,' Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said.
'We have to make a clear decision on what we can do.'
Australian military personnel outside the Tham Luang cave complex, where 12 schoolboys and their soccer coach are trapped inside a flooded cave
Family members cook for rescue workers near Tham Luang cave complex as the divers enter the tunnels in a dangerous bid to rescue the boys
Family members come out from Tham Luang cave complex. One woman was seen talking on the phone as she was ushered out by rescue workers
Family members come out from Tham Luang cave complex. They were seen accompanied by nurses and emergency workers
Journalists work near Tham Luang cave complex before they were asked to move further away as rescue operations began
Thai military personnel inside a cave complex during the ongoing rescue operations for the youth soccer team and their assistant coach, at Tham Luang cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park
Thousands of rescuers including Thai Navy SEALs and elite British divers have been working around the clock to come up with a plan to bring the exhausted and starved boys home safely
But with gathering clouds that have already thundered down heavy rain for 90 minutes on Saturday night, authorities are anxious to push ahead before it's too late
Weather forecasts predict sustained thunderstorms lasting through Sunday and Monday, with further stormy weather for the next two weeks.
In another sign that a rescue attempt was imminent, police early on Sunday morning local time began evacuating the area around the cave mouth in preparation - giving everyone until 9am (3am BST) to leave.
'Assessing the situation now, it is necessary to evacuate the area for the rescue operation,' Mae Sai police commander Komsan Sa-ardluan bellowed over a loudspeaker.
'Those unrelated to the rescue operation, please evacuate the area immediately.'
The frantic four-day deadline marked a dramatic U-turn from Governor Narongsak's press conference just 12 hours earlier.
Then he said the boys were still learning to dive and were not yet strong enough to make the perilous escape through narrow tunnels that are at one point just 15 inches wide.
Navigating the cave system takes an experienced diver more than five hours and the boys were not back at full strength after suffering exhaustion and starvation before rescuers found them.
Thai cave rescue teams prepare to decide which trapped children will swim for their lives - and who will stay behind - as new photos emerge from inside water-filled tunnels
A former Thai navy diver who joined in search efforts to rescue 12 boys and their coach trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand has died.
Saman Gunan, 38, lost consciousness on his way out of the Tham Luang cave complex after delivering supplies and could not be revived.
"His job was to deliver oxygen. He did not have enough on his way back," said and official.
The diver had left the navy but returned to help the rescue operation.
"A former SEAL who volunteered to help died last night around 2am," Chiang Rai Deputy Governor Passakorn Boonyaluck told reporters at the rescue site.
Mr Gunan, said to be an avid runner and cyclist, was part of a massive rescue operation which started almost two weeks ago after the group went into the Tham Luang cave.
Around 1,000 people are involved in the rescue operations, including navy divers, military personnel and civilian volunteers.
Thai officials are preparing to decide which of the boys trapped in a flooded cave will swim for their lives - and which will stay behind.
Chiang Rai provincial governor Narongsak Osatanakorn, who is overseeing the rescue of the youth football team and their coach, has said that 'all 13 may not come out at the same time.'
He said authorities will evaluate their readiness each day and if there is any risk will not proceed.
'If the condition is right and if that person is ready 100%, he can come out,' he added.
Earlier, the boys, aged 11 to 16, said they are healthy in a newly released video.
Thai officials are preparing to decide which of the boys trapped in a flooded cave will swim for their lives - and which will stay behind. Pictured, the boys
The 12 boys and their coach are seen sitting with Thai Navy Seals in the dark cave with their visibly skinny faces illuminated by the beam of a flashlight.
The boys, many wrapped in foil warming blankets, take turns introducing themselves, folding their hands together in a traditional greeting and saying their names and that they are healthy.
The video, lasting about a minute, was recorded some time on Tuesday and was posted on the Navy Seal Facebook page on Wednesday morning.
The boys and their 25-year-old coach disappeared after they went exploring in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Chiang Rai province after a football game on June 23.
The 12 boys and their coach are seen sitting with Thai Navy Seals in the dark cave with their visibly skinny faces illuminated by the beam of a flashlight
Rescue workers are seen by the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Chiang Rai province
The teammates, who were trapped inside when heavy rains flooded the cave, were found by rescue divers late on Monday night.
A desperate search for them drew assistance from experts around the globe, including British divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, who were the first rescuers to reach the group.
Authorities said the boys, who had also been shown on Tuesday in a video shot by the British divers, were being looked after by seven members of the Thai Navy Seals, including medics, who were staying with them inside the cave.
They were mostly in stable condition and have received high-protein drinks.
In both of the videos, the boys have appeared in good spirits.
A desperate search for them drew assistance from experts around the globe
Workers bring supplies for the trapped boys, who were trapped inside when heavy rains flooded the cave
Seal commander Rear Admiral Arpakorn Yookongkaew said there was no rush to bring the group out of the cave, since they are safe where they are.
The current flooding situation means the boys would have to dive, which rescue experts have said could be extremely dangerous.
While efforts to pump out floodwaters are continuing, some Thai officials have indicated that heavy rains forecast for this weekend could force them to decide the boys should swim and dive out using the same complicated route through which their rescuers entered.