MAE SAI, Thailand — "Everyone is safe." With those three words posted on Facebook the daring rescue mission to extricate 12 boys and their soccer coach from the treacherous confines of a flooded cave in Thailand came to a close on Tuesday — a grueling 18-day ordeal that claimed the life of an experienced diver and riveted people worldwide.
Thailand's Navy SEALs, who were central to the rescue effort, celebrated the feat with a post that read: "All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave," — a reference to the boys' soccer team. "We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what."
Eight of the boys were rescued by a team of Thai and international divers on Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday, the final four boys were brought out, along with their coach. Their rescue was followed a few hours later by the safe return of a medic and three SEAL divers who had stayed for days with the boys in their cramped refuge in the cave.
Cheers erupted from the dozens of volunteers and journalists awaiting news of whether the intricate and high-risk rescue mission had succeeded. Helicopters transporting the boys roared overhead. People on the street cheered and clapped when ambulances ferrying them on the last leg of their journey from the cave arrived at a hospital in Chiang Rai city.
Their joy and relief was echoed around the globe by the multitude of people who had watched the long ordeal in widely broadcast newscasts.
Payap Maiming, who helped provide food and necessities to rescue workers and journalists, noted that fact.
"I'm happy for Thais all over the country," he said. "And actually just everyone in the world because every news channel has presented this story and this is what we have been waiting for."
"It's really a miracle," Payap said. "It's hope and faith that has brought us this success."
Amporn Sriwichai, an aunt of rescued coach Ekkapol Chantawong, was ecstatic. "If I see him, I just want to hug him and tell him that I missed him very much," she said.
The plight of the boys and their coach captivated much of the world — from the heart-sinking news that they were missing, to the first flickering video of the huddle of anxious yet smiling boys when they were found by a pair of British divers 10 days later. They were trapped in the sprawling Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand on June 23, when it became flooded by monsoon rains as they were exploring it after soccer practice.
Each of the boys, ages 11 to 16 and with no diving experience, was guided out by a pair of divers in the three-day high-stakes operation. The route, in some places just a crawl space, had oxygen canisters positioned at regular intervals to refresh each team's air supply.
Highlighting the dangers, a former Thai Navy SEAL died Friday while replenishing the canisters.
Cave-diving experts had warned it was potentially too risky to dive the youngsters out.
But Thai officials, acutely aware that the boys could be trapped for months by monsoon rains that would swell waters in the cave system, seized a window of opportunity provided by relatively mild weather. A massive water pumping effort also made the winding cave more navigable. The confidence of the diving team, and expertise specific to the cave, grew after its first successful mission Sunday.