IT WAS a proud proof-of-life moment as rescue leaders showed vision of most of the boys smiling and waving to a camera as their parents, one of them crying, looked in at them through a glass partition at Chiangi Rai hospital.

The boys were lying in bed, or walking about, dressed in hospital whites, healthy but awaiting quarantine clearance.

They also revealed footage from deep within the cave system, showing a boggy, dank and dark-brown underground river, into which torchlight could barely penetrate.

The difficulties of working in the slimy and cramped caverns were grimly apparent.

Rear Admiral Apakorn Youkongkaew, head of Naval Special Warfare Command, said they had considered drilling through the mountain to get the boys, but found it would have been "like performing a Herculean task".

"We analysed and discussed how we were going to help these kids. We found our strengths and got the greatest divers in the world to come and help us."

The boys have been through a horrific ordeal. “The children should not be blamed for the incident,” says Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn.
The boys have been through a horrific ordeal. “The children should not be blamed for the incident,” says Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn.

Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn said a life had been sacrificed to make the mission a success. "We have lost petty officer first-class Saman Kunan. We will remember him as a hero. We used his determination to push through and make this a success.

"I have also been informed by the Prime Minister, who received a call from Ms Julie Bishop, the Australian Foreign Minister, on the passing of Dr Richard Harris's father.

The rescued boys smile and wave at their parents through a glass partition. Picture: Twitter
The rescued boys smile and wave at their parents through a glass partition. Picture: Twitter

"I would like to express my deepest condolences for his great loss, and thank him for his contribution, for without him this mission would not have been a success."

Narongsak revealed that as concerns grew about failing oxygen and rising carbon dixide in the cave, the pressure was on. Thai Navy SEALs "told us the kids are getting weaker, we have to get them out of the cave".

"But for this task we had to put in the best performance, so we put oxygen tanks in many spots in the cave. We had to make the decision.

"One of the really important things was the pumping teams. Both inside the cave and outside the cave, they were really important. And there was another team diverting water."

 

The boys will be monitored for some time to come to ensure they are mentally strong.

"The children should not be blamed for the incident," said Narongsak. "What happened was a misfortune that no one would like to see happen."

He did not elaborate on the exact details of how and why the boys entered the cave with their coach.

OPERATION INCREDIBLY RISKY

It took 13 countries to pull the 13 Wild Boars out of the flooded cave - along with some 2000 people and a whole lot of planning, good fortune and goodwill.

The images of the boys, found alive and well, perched on a muddy shelf amid rising waters nine days after they were lost on June 23, was initial cause for celebration. But those who know the treachery of underground caves knew a huge challenge lay ahead.

Heavy rains were coming; there was a good chance the boys were already suffering from pneumonia or waterborne disease; and the Tham Luang's 10km cave system was not even properly mapped.

It took 2000 people and a whole lot of planning, good fortune and goodwill to rescue the boys from the flooded cave. Picture: Thai Navy SEALS/Facebook
It took 2000 people and a whole lot of planning, good fortune and goodwill to rescue the boys from the flooded cave. Picture: Thai Navy SEALS/Facebook

Thailand's friends reacted immediately and the Chiang Rai region's departing governor, Narongsak Osotthanakorn, made sure they were welcome - so long as they were true professionals, not attention seekers.

Divers and disaster experts were quickly identified from within Australia, Britain, China, USA, Canada, Laos, Myanmar, Belgium, Myanmar, Finland, Denmark and Japan and converged on the rugged Chiang Rai region of northern Thailand to give the help was urgently needed.

Foreign divers head to Tham Luang Nang Non cave during the  rescue operation.
Foreign divers head to Tham Luang Nang Non cave during the rescue operation.

More than 100 Royal Thai Navy SEALs were already in place, having made preliminary expeditions into the cave, fast becoming inundated with rushing waters. They were backed by 1000 Thai military, plus hundreds of volunteers.

All options were on the table, including trying to locate a shaft to tunnel down to the boys. But diving them out was the fastest, and riskiest, method. As university types cautioned against the water extraction, Narongsak knew it was the best hope.

A strategy was quickly agreed on. Air tanks would be positioned along the route. A safety guide line would be fastened through the tunnels. A core group of 19 divers to rescue the boys were identified. And for each plan, a second and third contingency put in place should any link in the chain fail.

The six AFP and one Defence divers would not be among them - and that was no slap in the face. They had been involved in exploratory dives but when duties were divided up, it was decided they would be located at base camps two and three, within the cave, moving tonnes of equipment, including food and tanks.

Water is pumped from the flooded cave during the rescue mission.
Water is pumped from the flooded cave during the rescue mission.

One Australian, an anaesthetist and cave diving expert, Richard Harris, would go to the frontline. His task would be to check the boys and administer a mild sedative prior to departure - just enough so they would relax and not panic.

With the world watching and waiting, and three Thai Navy SEALs at his side, Dr Harris needed to keep his head.

"The amount of weight and pressure that was pushed on him, and the role he played, I have the utmost respect for everything that he's done," said the ADF's Major Alex Rubin, talking to media in Chiang Rai.

"He is what I would consider personally as one of the most professional doctors I've ever met and his unique skills sets as a specialist doctor, and also as a cave diver, was quintessential to the success of this operation."

 

A rescuer walks between the hoses which pumped water out of the cave.
A rescuer walks between the hoses which pumped water out of the cave.

 

Speaking in Chiang Rai, Commander McEwen and Major Alex Rubin from the Australian Defence Force gave a brief glimpse into an operation they described as difficult and intense.

They spoke briefly about Dr Richard Harris, who is now returning home after the death of his father.

"It's amazing what the human being can do," said Commander McEwen. "There were extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. And when you have a common purpose, particularly when there's a human element involved, everyone steps up."

Dr Harris was assisted by Dr Craig Challen, veterinarian and cave diver from WA.

"He was essentially assisting him with all the dives, with carriage of equipment - quite a large responsibility that required a lot of specialist equipment," said Major Rubin.

BOYS DRANK DRIPPING WATER TO SURVIVE

The 12 boys and soccer coach rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand lost weight during their 18-day ordeal and in the days before their discovery survived by drinking water dripping into their refuge, a health official says.

The team members and coach "took care of themselves well in the cave," Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, a public health inspector, said at a news conference at the hospital in Chiang Rai city where the group is recovering.

The four boys rescued on Sunday can eat normal food and walk around, and the four pulled out on Monday were eating soft food. Thongchai said one member of the final group of four boys and the coach who arrived at the hospital on Tuesday evening had a slight lung infection.

Two of the first group had a lung infection as well, and Thongchai said they would need medicine for seven days.

The average weight loss was 2 kilograms for those with known information, Thongchai said. They were able to obtain water dripping inside the cave.

"To not receive food, we can still survive for many months but what's necessary is water, which the cave has, and around this time there's a lot in the cave, and they chose clean water to drink," he said.

Perth-based diver Craig Challen and Dr Richard Harris. Picture: Supplied
Perth-based diver Craig Challen and Dr Richard Harris. Picture: Supplied

MISSION CARRIED "UNPRECEDENTED RISK"

The rescue involved long stays in the cave "moving approximately 20 tonnes of equipment through the caving system, of course it was a collective effort, and we cannot underscore the complexity and risk," said Commander McEwen.

"We were fortunate enough with the pumps that were working that managed the water levels. Things do happen but all I can say is the risk remained high, the complexity remained high and the scale remained high.

"It was just perilous in nature."

Commander McEwen said apart from Dr Harris, the main role of the six AFP and one Defence diver was to provide assistance in the second and third chambers, close to the entrance of the Tham Luang cave system.

Commander McEwen said working with the Thais, whom he described as highly focussed, was an honour. As was being part of the effort to save the kids.

"Returning the Wild Boars soccer team safely into the arms of their loved ones is the good news of the year," he said.

"I've proud to have been able to assist our Thai partners in this successful rescue in conjunction with our international colleagues," Commander McEwen said.

"The complexity, scale and risk of the operation was unprecedented.

Six AFP specialist divers spent 75 hours in the cave system, assisted by a support crew of 10 people, during the rescue effort.

He went on to say that everyone who took part in the risky mission was a hero.

"The children who went through this ordeal in the cave are heroes in their own right, and the Thai SEALs went above and beyond," the spokesman said.

"The leadership of the Thai authorities was exemplary."

Commander McEwen batted away questions about the failure of a vital water pump that forced the Thai Navy SEALs to scramble after the cave started refilling with water.

"You could have a million 'what ifs', we're here to celebrate the success," Commander McEwen said.

According to ABC News the Thai Navy SEALs were lucky to make it out alive after the main water pump failed,

Having drained millions of litres of rainwater out of the cave during the gripping rescue mission, the main waterpump failed after the soccer coach and four Thai SEALs who volunteered to stay with the team were extracted.

Military officials tasked with clearing the Tham Luang cave were alarmed to see water levels rising, ABC News reported.

The first chamber was the first to fill, followed by the second and third, leaving crews scrambling to escape.

The sudden evacuation meant hundreds of airtanks and rescue equipment were left behind.

BOYS WERE RESCUED JUST IN TIME

The timing of the mission to rescue the remaining members of the trapped Thai soccer team could not have been more perfect, with monsoonal rains lashing Chiang Rai soon after the final five were extracted from the Tham Luang cave.

Thailand's volatile weather had rescuers on edge throughout the gruelling rescue operation.

It was initially thought the boys could stay in the cave for as long as four months, but the risk of deadly flooding prompted authorities to swing into action sooner.

Footage shared by 7 News Journalist Chris Reason on Twitter shows the heavy rain bearing down near the caves where the team was trapped.

Rescuers worked around the clock to pump water from the waterlogged cave network. On Sunday, their efforts appeared fruitful, when a heavy downpour did not raise water levels inside the cave, and allowed the extraction operation to proceed.

Thailand's monsoon season runs from July until October.

AUSSIE RESCUERS "THE VERY BEST"

Aussie heroes who took part in the incredible mission were praised for their tremendous efforts in rescuing the 12 boys and their coach.

"(The Australians) have been a big help, especially the doctor," rescue chief, Governor Narongsak Osatthanakorn told 9 NEWS reporter Ben Avery.

"Very good. The best - not good - the very best."

Australian doctor Richard Harris, an expert diver from Adelaide, was commended for his role in the rescue.

Dr Harris was on a ledge deep within the cave administering a mild sedative to each of the boys, ensuring they would not panic during the swim out.

His dive partner, Dr Craig Challen, was the second Australian involved in the mission to be named.

The vet, from West Australia, is one of Australia's leading technical cave divers. He has been diving for more than 20 years.

Chiang Rai province Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn. Picture: AP
Chiang Rai province Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn. Picture: AP

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull today called the rescue "one of the most heroic and inspiring episodes of our time".

He publicly praised the efforts of all personnel involved in the mission after personally speaking to the Australian divers and doctors involved to thank them for their efforts.

"It's one of the most heroic and inspiring episodes of our time," Mr Turnbull said this afternoon.

"It's hard to imagine anything more frightening than being trapped underground in the dark, let alone having your children trapped underground in the dark.

"And the courage of those men and women who affected that rescue, the Thai Navy SEALs, the British divers, the Australian divers, and doctors - of course, we acknowledge Dr Richard Harris from Adelaide who played such an important role - but the whole team from the AFP, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, from the Australian Defence Force, they worked together with their international partners in a way that is an inspiration to all of us.

"I want to thank them on behalf of a very, very grateful nation."

AUSTRALIA "A GOOD NEIGHBOUR": BISHOP

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop praised the "extraordinary efforts" of 20 Australians directly involved in the remarkable rescue of the 12 boys and their soccer coach.

"It is a remarkable outcome, the end of an extraordinary ordeal," she told Channel 7's Sunrise program this morning.

The Foreign Affairs Minister confirmed all workers involved in the dangerous rescue mission, including the Australians, were safe and well after she contacted Australia's Embassy in Bangkok overnight.

She paid tribute to all involved in the operation and particularly Thai Navy SEAL Saman Kunan, who tragically lost his life in the effort to free the boys.

"We are absolutely delighted that our rescue team has been able to assist the Thai authorities and the international rescue teams to bring about this quite remarkable result," Ms Bishop told Nine Network on Wednesday. "This is what Australians do so well.

"Under our aid program, we have tragically many opportunities to support neighbours in times of crisis and so this is just another example of Australia being a good friend, a good neighbour, and helping out when it is needed."

 

Australian doctor Richard Harris administered a mild sedative to all of the boys prior to departing the ledge in order to eliminate any fear during the swim. Pictures: AAP
Australian doctor Richard Harris administered a mild sedative to all of the boys prior to departing the ledge in order to eliminate any fear during the swim. Pictures: AAP

 

"We do of course recall that one volunteer did die in the course of this incredible process of extracting the boys from the cave, and we feel for his family," she said.

"But there has now been this quite remarkable outcome. The ordeal is over."

Ms Bishop particularly highlighted the efforts of Dr Harris, whose involvement in the rescue mission had been requested "at the highest level within the Thai government".

The 53-year-old anaesthetist and cave diving expert from Adelaide played a pivotal role in the rescue, including administering a small sedative to the boys before they exited the cave so they would remain calm on the 1.7km swim to the surface.

He entered the cave before each rescue operation with a Thai medical team and assessed the boys' fitness to make the journey.

 

Dr Craig Harris and the team of doctors he worked with during the rescue mission. 
Picture: Supplied
Dr Craig Harris and the team of doctors he worked with during the rescue mission. Picture: Supplied

 

"He is an extraordinary Australian and he certainly has made a big difference to the rescue effort here in Thailand in this instance," Ms Bishop told Sunrise.

"I am hoping to speak to the Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai later this morning and I'm sure that he will confirm that Dr Harris was identified by the British diving team and then was requested to be involved at the highest levels within the Thai government."

She added that Dr Harris was "very well known" to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade because he had been one of the doctors involved in medical assistance teams working on natural disasters throughout the Pacific.

Ms Bishop said Dr Harris had been assisted by his dive partner, Dr Craig Challen, a vet and cave diving expert from Perth.

"Between them and the rest of the Australian team, I believe we were an integral part in the overall rescue," Ms Bishop said.

In a statement this morning, Ms Bishop also praised Thai authorities for outstanding leadership throughout the rescue operation.

"The rescue mission was made possible by a remarkable example of international cooperation," she said.

ELON MUSK SOUR AT RESCUE OFFICIALS

Rescue officials who worked tirelessly in the risky mission to save the soccer team have come under fire from Elon Musk after they rejected his kid-sized submarine.

The billionaire flew the mini-sub - named Wild Boars - to Thailand, with hopes it would play a pivotal role in extracting the 12 boys from the waterlogged cave.

He said it was "light enough to be carried by 2 divers, small enough to get through narrow gaps" and "extremely robust".

But while Governor Narongsak Osatthanakorn, the rescue chief, acknowledged the contraption was "technologically sophisticated", it did not suit the rescue mission, which prompted a response from the SpaceX founder.

Musk criticised Osatthanakorn, saying he was "not the subject matter expert", and that'd he been "described inaccurately as 'rescue chief'."

Despite this, Musk said he would leave the submarine in Thailand, and congratulated the rescue team.

"Great news that they made it out safely. Congratulations to an outstanding rescue team," he said.

HOW THE RESCUE UNFOLDED

All 13 members of the Wild Boars soccer team finally made it to safety in one of the most inspiring rescue missions the world has witnessed after an 18-day ordeal.

"We did something nobody thought possible. Today, Thai people, team Thailand, achieved mission impossible," rescue chief, Governor Narongsak Osatthanakorn said to applause and cheers, hours after the team - who were soon followed by Australian anaesthetist Richard Harris and four Thai Navy SEALs - emerged securely.

An emergency team rushes to a helicopter believed to be carrying the last rescued boy from the flooded cave. Picture: AP
An emergency team rushes to a helicopter believed to be carrying the last rescued boy from the flooded cave. Picture: AP

"We are delighted. We have done things we never thought we could do. I'm proud we could complete the mission impossible."

"We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave," the Thai Navy SEALs wrote on their Facebook page. "Everyone is safe."

The last boys are evacuated and rushed to waiting ambulances. Picture: AP
The last boys are evacuated and rushed to waiting ambulances. Picture: AP

 

"I'm happy for Thais all over the country," said Payap Maiming, who helped provide food and necessities to rescue workers.

"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," Mr Maiming 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.

 

Thai media celebrate after the boys and their coach were freed. Picture: AP
Thai media celebrate after the boys and their coach were freed. Picture: AP

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha earlier confirmed that the boys had been given calming medicine "so the children won't panic, just like we take anti-allergy so we feel OK and are not excited".

Rescuers walk toward the entrance to the cave complex where five Thai soccer team members are still trapped. Picture: AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit
Rescuers walk toward the entrance to the cave complex where five Thai soccer team members are still trapped. Picture: AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit

Two of the eight boys who came out over Sunday and Monday were diagnosed with mild pneumonia at Chang Rai hospital, 60km south of the Tham Luang cave system.

The governor said they had been treated with intravenous drips and were responding well.

"We expected them all to have pneumonia, and came up with preventive measures, but most of them haven't got pneumonia," he said.

The 12 boys and their coach had been trapped in the cave since June 23.
The 12 boys and their coach had been trapped in the cave since June 23.

Governor Narongsak said the last day of the operation had moved even faster than the previous two days, with evacuation times sharply cut as the core diving team became better familiarised with the dangerous route.

They left the strongest team members till last, including coach Ekkapon Chantawongse.

What was days ago a five-hour journey in blackness, through high-water chambers and a risky choke-point tunnel, was cut down to only three hours.

Ambulances transport some of the boys rescued from Tham Luang Nang Non cave from a helipad to hospital.
Ambulances transport some of the boys rescued from Tham Luang Nang Non cave from a helipad to hospital.

It is understood that the boys were rested and given initial medical attention for several hours at Chamber 3, where the rescuers set up their underground staging camp, before being assisted out of the cave.

Mr Narongsak said that although there had been heavy overnight rain, water levels were holding stable, meaning they were able to speed up the operation of positioning oxygen tanks along the route, and re-tensioning the safety line.

"The team completed their set-up for the mission faster than expected and it got underway at 10am (1pm AEST)," he said.

A helicopter believed to be carrying one of the boys rescued from the flooded cave lands in Chiang Rai.
A helicopter believed to be carrying one of the boys rescued from the flooded cave lands in Chiang Rai.

The rescued boys have been treated for passing fevers, coughing, light wounds and general weakness, with medical experts satisfied the boys have made it through their ordeal largely unscathed.

Families have been able to speak to the quarantined boys behind a glass partition at Chiang Rai hospital, where they will remain for up to seven days until they are given the complete all-clear.

"Because the kids are still young, they are very resilient. They can talk normally, everybody is joyful and very glad to come out," said Dr Jedsada Chokdamrongsuk from the Public Health Ministry.

The expert said the boys had suffered from exposure to water and cold over their long stay underground, but were in surprisingly good condition.

"They're hungry a lot and want to eat a variety of food, but at this stage we're given food that is easily digested and bland. They can sit up and eat, but there are no worrying conditions.

"They asked for bread with chocolate, which we think is OK."

 

Youngsters celebrate the rescue of the soccer team. Picture: Getty Images
Youngsters celebrate the rescue of the soccer team. Picture: Getty Images

The boys have told the rescuers that there were no animals such as bats in the cave so the medical experts feel certain there is no biological cross-contamination.

"We have to wait for microbiological results from the lab," said Dr Jedsada. "Their immune systems are weakened so it's best they stay in hospital."

The doctor said the boys will be able to watch the World Cup in quarantine - but as to news about their rescue, the psychologists don't want them to watch any coverage until the team was fully reunited in hospital.

The governor paid tribute to Saman Kunan, the former Thai Navy SEAL who died in the rescue. He called him "a real hero".

GLOBAL RELIEF AS BOYS FREED

World leaders and sports stars joined the global outpouring of relief and congratulations at the incredible rescue of the boys.

US President Donald Trump was among the first to congratulate the Thai Navy SEALs who spearheaded the mammoth international rescue effort.

"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," Mr Trump tweeted. "Such a beautiful moment - all freed, great job!"

"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," added British Prime Minister Theresa May on Twitter.

"What wonderful news from #Thailand! So much to admire: the perseverance of the brave boys and their coach, the skill and determination of the rescuers," tweeted Steffen Seibert, German chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said he was "Relieved with the happy outcome" of the cave rescue.

"Congratulations to the brave rescuers, including several Belgian divers," he tweeted.

"Thoughts also go out to the Thai Navy Seal who gave his life in this rescue operation," he added.

Former Thai navy diver Saman Kunan died on Friday when he ran out of oxygen while returning from the chamber where the boys were trapped.

Tech guru Elon Musk, who visited the cave and offered the use of a prototype minisub made from rocket parts, said: "Great news that they made it out safely. Congratulations to an outstanding rescue team!"

In the end, the sub was not needed and Musk earlier said he would leave it "here in case it may be useful in the future".

"Youjuuuu!," exclaimed Chilean miner Mario Sepulveda, who was among 33 miners trapped down a mine for 69 days in 2010.

"I feel a lot a lot of emotion. What can I say? I hope these kids will be very successful," he told AFP.

Soccer stars added their congratulations to the global jubilation.

Football's governing body FIFA, who had invited the boys to the World Cup final on Sunday, also welcomed the rescue but said the boys were too weak to attend the game in Moscow.

FIFA boss Gianni Infantino had invited the Wild Boars soccer team to the final "as our guests" last week.

But FIFA said it had been informed "that due to medical reasons, the boys will not be in a position to travel to Moscow".

"FIFA's priority remains the health of everyone involved in the operation and we will look into finding a new opportunity to invite the boys to a FIFA event to share with them a moment of communion and celebration," a spokesman said.

 

Medical staff at the hospital where the boys are receiving treatment. Picture: AP
Medical staff at the hospital where the boys are receiving treatment. Picture: AP

Manchester United also invited the Wild Boars, as well as those involved in the rescue, to travel to England and visit the club.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected. We would love to welcome the team from Wild Boars Football Club and their rescuers to Old Trafford this coming season," the club said in tweet.

"Amazing news that all of the Thai kids are out of the cave safely! I'd like to send out shirts to them," England and Manchester City defender Kyle Walker also tweeted.

German football stars Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil also celebrated the rescue, with both describing it on Twitter as "great news".

This photo tweeted by billionaire Elon Musk, who contributed to the rescue effort,  shows the inside of the flooded cave.
This photo tweeted by billionaire Elon Musk, who contributed to the rescue effort, shows the inside of the flooded cave.
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