‘We’ve rescued everyone’
To save 12 boys and a coach from a remote cave, it took a 3-day race against Thailand’s weather
MAE SAI, THAILAND — Divers compared it to mountain climbing — but in tight, pitch-black spaces and buffeted by swirling floodwaters, towing a child.
They had to guide their charges through passages as narrow as a couple of feet, weighed down by bulky equipment. A diver in front led the way, with a boy tethered to him and another diver following behind.
Each arduous round-trip extraction took between nine and 11 hours.
Finally, on Tuesday, the “allstar” team of expert cave divers from at least six countries completed the mission once feared impossible, pulling to safety the last of the 12 young soccer players and their 25-year-old coach from the remote cave where they were marooned for more than two weeks.
“We’ve rescued everyone,” said Narongsak Osatanakorn, the former governor of Chiang Rai province and the lead rescue official, as volunteers and journalists erupted in jubilant cheers and claps. “We achieved a mission impossible.”
The Thai navy SEALs added in a Facebook post: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what.”
The disappearance of the boys and their novice monk turned soccer coach from this small town on the ThailandMyanmar border — remarkably
found alive nine days after they went missing June 23 — launched an extraordinary saga of international cooperation and ingenuity, as experts from many fields planned how to maneuver all 13 out alive.
When no clear opening could be found atop the mountain range housing the cave, having the boys swim out with the 18-strong team of British, Australian, Chinese, Thai, American and Danish divers was considered the least risky of a range of daunting options.
The dramatic three-day mission kicked off Sunday after days spent preparing the cave — and the boys. One diver said in a Facebook post that he had spent 63 hours in the cave system over the past nine days.
The effort that swelled and gained momentum after the group was found on July 2 involved more than 100 other rescuers inside the cave, 1,000 members of the Thai army and almost 10,000 others who facilitated everything from rides up to the cave site to meals of fried chicken, eggs, and rice and noodle soups for divers, volunteers and journalists. International experts set up rescue communications, while Thai villagers set up coffee stalls and massage stations.
The mission was also a race against the weather.
Rescuers had spent days balancing the risk of impending monsoons, which could have flooded the cave again, against the boys’ readiness, weakened as they were by their ordeal. Rain fell periodically throughout the three days of extractions, but pumping efforts were so successful that the amount of time the boys spent underwater was minimized, officials said.
Tension that had gripped this small town near the site finally broke Tuesday evening as the last of the ambulances turned on their lights and sirens and raced downhill from the cave. Thai police lining the road from the entrance laughed and flashed thumbs-ups at the vast numbers of news organizations from all over the world waiting for this very scene.
Onlookers cheered “Hooyah moo pa!” — a reference to the name of the boys’ soccer team, Moo Pa, or Wild Boars.
A hint of setting sun and blue skies broke through the heavy clouds behind the caves as a helicopter whirred through the sky, carrying the last boys recovered to a hospital in nearby Chiang Rai.
Thai navy SEALs and an Australian medic who had been stationed with the boys for days, preparing them for their dive, were brought out of the cave soon after.
On Sunday, officials decided they could no longer wait, saying conditions were “as perfect as they will be” for a rescue attempt. Over the next three days, the boys were brought out in groups: four on the first day, four on the second day and four, plus their coach, on Tuesday.
Among those rooting for their rescue were world leaders, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and billionaire inventor Elon Musk, who tasked his team of engineers with building a “kidsized submarine” made out of rocket parts that would be able to move the young boys through the cave’s narrow passageways.
Shortly after the full rescue was announced, President Trump sent a congratulatory message.
“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!” he wrote.
Doctors attending to the eight boys who were rescued Sunday and Monday said they are generally in good health. It was an incredible result considering that the boys spent nine days incommunicado, without food, until
The effort that swelled and gained momentum after the group was found on July 2 involved more than 100 other rescuers inside the cave, 1,000 members of the Thai army and almost 10,000 others who facilitated everything from rides up to the cave site to meals of fried chicken, eggs, and rice and noodle soups.
In front of a hospital in Chiang Rai, supporters cheer as ambulances arrive with the last rescued soccer players and their coach.
Workers remove equipment early Tuesday after the last of the 12 soccer players and their coach were rescued in Chiang Rai province.