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All boys and coach rescued safely from Thai cave

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The 12 young boys trapped in a cave in northern Thailand with their football coach for over two weeks have been rescued safely, reported Asia Times (Thailand).

The Thai Navy Seals confirmed the happy news on their Facebook page just before 7pm local time, announcing a successful end to a tortuous mission that was closely followed by millions of Thais and people all around the world.

“All 12 ‘Wild Boars’ and coach have been extracted from the cave,” the post said, using the name of the boys’ now-infamous football team.

“All are safe” it added, signing off with a celebratory “Hooyah”, a SEALs signature remark throughout the painstaking mission to get the boys out, AFP reported.

Carried out, flown to hospital
Reuters said the last five were brought out of the cave on stretchers, one by one during the late afternoon, and taken by helicopter to hospital.

The last of the 13 trapped in the cave since June 23 was their 25-year-old coach Ekapol Chantawong. He was followed by four Navy Seals, who were part of a team of dozens of foreign and local divers involved in the long and arduous rescue operation. The divers have been hailed as heroes for their brave efforts to get the boys out.

The boys, their coach, plus three divers and a military doctor who worked closely with them are expected to spend about a week in hospital in Chiang Rai, as a precaution in case they have picked up any infection, doctors said.

“The 9th Wild Boar was out of the cave at 4.06pm,” a post on the Thai Navy Seals’ Facebook page said on Tuesday. The tenth boy emerged about half an hour late, and was followed by the 11th and 12th at 6.25pm. Assistant coach “Ek” was the last to emerge.

Dozens of local and international divers set off just after 10am on Tuesday – the third and perhaps last day of a major rescue operation – to bring out four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in the flooded cave in northern Thailand.

The mood in Chiang Rai and other parts of Thailand appeared to be upbeat, despite the fact heavy rain was threatening the perilous escape mission, and that probably stemmed from the fact that eight of the 12 boys stuck in the cave had been brought out successfully over the past two days. While it has been raining overnight, officials told a press conference in the morning the water level in the cave did not appear to have risen much.

First 8 survivors ‘good’, asking for chocolate
The first eight boys rescued from the cave are in good mental and physical health, officials said on Tuesday, although two were on antibiotics after being tested for pneumonia.

“Everyone is in a good mental state,” Jesada Chokedamrongsuk, permanent secretary of the public health ministry, told reporters at Chiang Rai hospital, AFP reported.

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”.

“None of the eight boys has fever today,” he said. The boys, aged 12-16, were the first to be extracted on Sunday and Monday, while the final four and their coach spent a 17th night inside.

The eight at the Chiang Rai hospital can eat, move about and talk. “They will have to stay in the hospital for one week to wait for their results and to see if anything changes,” he said.

Thongchai Lertwilairattanapong, Inspector General of the Public Health Ministry, said the first four boys taken out on Sunday were eating normal and plain food. “They’re 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.

Thailand has been riveted by the dramatic rescue mission to save the “Wild Boars” team after they first got trapped in Tham Luang more than two weeks ago by rising floodwater.

Rescuers are racing to extract the rest of the squad and their coach as heavy rains pick back up in the northern province, threatening to complicate the last phase of the mission by reflooding the cave. The death of a former Thai Navy SEAL diver who ran out of oxygen in the cave on Friday underscored the dangers of the mission.

Members of the “Wild Boars” team were guided to safety through the twisting, submerged passages of the Tham Luang cave by a team of international expert divers flanked by Thai Navy SEALs over two days in a meticulously planned operation.

The emergence of the second batch of four on Monday evening was greeted with a simple “Hooyah” by the Thai SEAL team on their Facebook page, an exclamation that lit up Thai social media.

Messages of support from Klopp, Messi
The ups and downs of the rescue bid has also fixated a global audience, drawing comments of support from celebrities as varied as US President Donald Trump, football star Lionel Messi, Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp and tech guru Elon Musk.

Thailand‘s junta leader General Prayut Chan-ocha welcomed Musk into the cave complex late on Monday, with the American later tweeting a standing offer of a mini-submarine escape pod to help the remaining five leave the tunnels.

Operations chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters today’s mission started at 10.08am and he hoped it would be faster than the two previous days. They planned to extract all of the last five players and coach in the cave, he said.

A rescue official told AFP: “I guarantee they will all be safe,” reflecting the increasingly bullish attitude after two successful operations so far.

Information on the rescue operation, the health of those rescued – and their identities – has been tightly guarded by Thai authorities. But the progress of a rescue, which early on had looked like it could be stalled until after the monsoon season, has brought joy to the friends and family of the stricken group.

Musk at the cave with mini-sub
Meanwhile, American space entrepreneur Elon Musk tweeted on Tuesday: “Just returned from Cave 3.” Cave Three is about two kilometers from the entrance of the cave network and is the base for Thai rescuers.

The footballers still awaiting rescue are about two kilometers further in, at a point very difficult to access. There is no indication so far that Thai rescuers plan to use Musk’s prototype.

“Mini-sub is ready if needed. It is made of rocket parts & named Wild Boar after kids’ soccer team. Leaving here in case it may be useful in the future.”

He posted a video on Instagram of the flooded cave, with rescuers.

After garnering headlines with initial ideas of installing a giant air tube inside the cave complex and using his firm’s penetrating radar to dig holes to reach the boys, Musk offered his idea for the mini-sub. He called it “basically a tiny, kid-size submarine using the liquid oxygen transfer tube of [a] Falcon rocket as hull.”

Musk said it was light enough to be carried by two divers, robust, and small enough to get through narrow gaps. The person inside need not swim or know how to use oxygen bottles. Earlier, he posted a video of divers escorting the pod during testing in a Los Angeles swimming pool.

Last week, Musk said he was sending teams to Thailand from his private space exploration firm, SpaceX, and engineering firm, Boring Co. which is developing tunneling systems for transport projects. While offering the mini-submarine as a potential savior, Musk used the opportunity to promote space exploration. He is also co-founder of the Tesla electric car company.

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Reporter: Denes Osvalt
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