[UPDATED at 11:58 a.m. Eastern, July 10]
The cave is empty again.
With the rescued safe, it was time for the rescuers to make their own exit.
On Tuesday, after 18 days of drama that gripped Thailand and the world, the last people exited the flooded cave complex in which 12 young soccer players and their coach had been trapped.
Here are the latest developments.
• The four members of the Thai military — one army doctor and three Navy SEAL members — who had stayed with the team for days came out of the cave together. The rescue operation is officially complete. [Go here to read a Q. and A. about why the rescue was so daunting by John Ismay, a Times reporter and former United States Navy diver.]
• All members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their 25-year-old coach are safe at the Chiang Rai hospital, the authorities said.
• The boys and their coach are to spend at least a week in the hospital to help protect them from infection, doctors say. [Go here to read about their medical condition.]
‘It was 18 days, but it felt like years’
It took dozens of divers, hundreds of volunteers and 18 days to do it, but the rescue operation at Tham Luang Cave has succeeded.
The final stage of the extraction mission began at 10:08 a.m. local time on Tuesday, with 19 divers dispatched to the remote cavern where the last four members of the Wild Boar soccer team and their coach have been sheltering since June 23.
“Twelve Boars and coach are out of the cave. Everyone is safe. Now we are waiting to welcome our frogmen,” read a post on the Thai Navy SEAL Facebook page on Tuesday night.
Soon after, another post went up: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave.”
Around 9:40 p.m., Thai officials confirmed that the four-member military team that had stayed with the boys in their cavern for days had also left the cave, together. With that, the rescue operation is officially complete.
On Sunday and Monday, around 100 divers, medical personnel and support staff evacuated eight soccer teammates. The rescue effort involved guiding boys with little in the way of swimming skills through passageways filled with churning water.
The operation did claim one life: Saman Gunan, a 38-year-old former Navy SEAL diver who volunteered to help in the search and rescue. He died early on Friday after carrying air tanks into the flooded cave, losing consciousness underwater after running out of air himself.
At certain points, the underwater crevices through which people had to squeeze were barely wide enough to accommodate an adult human body, according to both Narongsak Osottanakorn, the head of the search operation, and a diver who had explored the cave complex.
In a news conference after the rescue, Mr. Narongsak said that all of the team members were safe at the hospital at Chiang Rai.
“I would like to say we have good news: We got five people out safely,” he said. He added that family members would be able to visit the boys tonight, though separated by a window.
They will spend at least a week warding off possible infection, according to Dr. Jesada Chokedamrongsuk, the permanent secretary to Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health.
Two of the boys rescued Sunday are suffering from mild pneumonia, said Dr. Tosthep Buthong, the Chiang Rai public health chief, at a news conference on Tuesday morning.
Jintrakarn Sriwanithkul, 18, a student at the Maesai Prasitsart School attended by six of the team members, was at the school as the news broke that the entire team had been saved.
“It’s amazing news!” he said.
Like many of the players who became trapped, he had been inside Tham Luang Cave before.
“When I first heard about them being missing, I thought they’d come out in two to three days because they knew the cave well,” he said.
“It’s scary there but also pretty,” he added. “I guess a lesson from this is that natural disasters can happen, especially during rainy season.”
In the town of Mae Sai, the abbot at the temple where the young coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, works, was overjoyed.
“I’m so happy, but it’s not just for Ek and the team,” said the abbot, Prayuth Jetiyanukarn. “The whole world has been watching over these 18 days and they are celebrating with us.”
The abbot was overcome, and started crying.
“Because Ek is an orphan, I feel like his father. And Ek felt responsible for the 12 Wild Boars so I felt like I had 13 worries on my shoulders,” he said. “It was 18 days but it felt like years.”
— Hannah Beech, Muktita Suhartono and Navaon Siradapuvadol, in Mae Sai
Trump Compliments Thai Rescuers
The world’s fixation on the successful Thailand rescue was not lost on President Trump, who included a congratulatory message to the saviors of the soccer team in his daily litany of Twitter postings, which otherwise focused on attacking his critics, extolling his latest nominee to the Supreme Court and complaining about NATO, Iran and trade deals he regards as unfair.
A political cartoonist trains his pen on the cave
Amid a deluge of social media talk about the search-and-rescue operation at the Tham Luang cave network, some attention has focused on the work of a political cartoonist called Stephff.
Stephff is the pen name of Stephane Peray, a Frenchman who has been the resident cartoonist for The Nation, a Thai newspaper, since 2003. He said in an email that his work also appears in China Daily, The Korea Times, The Jakarta Post and The Daily Star in Lebanon.
Mr. Peray, 54, said he is from the French Alps and has lived in Bangkok, the Thai capital, for 30 years. “Politics is my main interest,” he said.
Some of his recent cartoons have taken aim at how the Thai bureaucracy is handling the rescue operation, and another celebrated the trapped boys’ football club while poking fun at the Brazilian national team.
Yet another cartoon made a sharp point about Thai politics. It shows a drawing of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha emerging from water in a cavern to find a woman in a Statue of Liberty-style dress. The words “Thai democracy” are written on a wall behind her.
“Sorry, but it might take a longer time than expected to get you out of here,” the cartoon version of Mr. Prayuth tells Lady Liberty. Mr. Prayuth is a military general who seized power from a democratically elected government in a bloodless coup in 2014, and has repeatedly postponed plans for free elections.
But overall, Mr. Peray’s cartoons about the cave rescue are poignant tributes to the trapped boys, served with a dash of whimsy. A recurring word is “HOPE,” in capital letters, and his characters include an angel in white, a Buddhist monk in orange robes and an earnest elephant wearing a searchlight.
Mr. Peray said he meant hope not only for the boys, but mankind.
“This story is different than everyday ugly politics,” he said. “It is making us feel good about ourselves that mankind is not completely lost after all.”
—Mike Ives, in Hong Kong
Jubilation in the team’s hometown
On Sunday, in the town of Mae Sai, where the boys’ soccer team is based, residents and family members were cheering the sound of every helicopter and ambulance they heard, in an uproar of celebration at the news that the first four boys had been taken out of the cave.
“I am so happy!” said Kamon Chanthapun, an adviser to the team. “I was so worried because they are just children, stuck for so long in the dark.”
Young men rode in the back of flatbed trucks, cruising the streets and cheering.
Mae Sai is a town that thrives on border commerce. Some residents have relatives across the border in Myanmar, and thousands cross over from that country each day to work, trade or attend school in Thailand.
One of the boys in the cave, Adul Sam-on, is a student at the Ban Wiang Phan school here. Inside, students had written messages on heart-shaped sticky notes placed up in a big heart shape on a bulletin board with optimistic messages. “Hopefully our friend can come out safely,” read one.
Adul was the boy who spoke to British divers in English in the video that announced to the world that the team had finally been found, after 10 days stuck in the flooded Tham Luang Cave.
The head coach for the soccer team, Nopparat Khanthawong, who did not enter the cave with the others two weeks ago, said: “I’m happy that children are coming out. All I can do is to send my prayers and support to the children and rescuers.”
He added: “We don’t know the physical condition of the boys. Please keep them coming!”
— Hannah Beech and Muktita Suhartono, in Mae Sai
Why can’t the boys swim?
A Thai official said some members of the boys’ soccer team trapped in the flooded cave network don’t know how to swim, further complicating the rescue effort.
That may surprise people from countries where swim lessons are a rite of passage for most children. But in Southeast Asia, not knowing how to swim is normal.
A key reason is that many mothers in the region believe that teaching their children to swim will increase the risk of them drowning, said Michael Linnan, the technical director at the Alliance for Safe Children, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that has worked extensively in the region.
Dr. Linnan said it was not uncommon to see rates of swimming in low- and middle-income countries that is “well below” 20 percent, even among sailors, fishermen and others who earn their living on the water.
Drowning is a leading cause of death among children in low- and middle-income countries in Asia, Unicef said in a 2012 report. Unlike in high-income countries, the report said, the danger to children typically comes not from swimming pools but from daily exposure to water and “spontaneous actions that put them at risk.”
In Thailand, the Health Ministry reported in 2014 that drowning was the primary cause of death among children under 15. It said an average of four children in Thailand died every day from drowning, a rate five to 15 times higher than those for developed countries.
Dr. Linnan, a former medical epidemiologist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, said Thailand has made “enormous strides” in the last decade toward preventing child injury and morbidity. For example, he said, the government established a national day care program, a move that helped to prevent drownings among very young children.
But he said he hoped recent events at Tham Luang Cave would be a “teachable moment,” highlighting a need on a national scale for further efforts to prevent drowning.
“I hope that will be the silver lining in this cloud,” he said.
— Mike Ives in Hong Kong
Letters from the cave: “I’ll be back soon”
One boy promised to do his chores when he gets home. Another asked for barbecued pork.
In letters home, written on water-stained paper and posted Saturday on the Thai Navy SEALs’ Facebook page, the trapped boys and their soccer coach sought to reassure their families that they were in good hands and in good spirits.
“Don’t worry about me,” wrote Ekkarat Wongsookchan, 13, who is called Bew. “I’ve been away for two weeks. I’ll help Mom every day. I’ll be back soon.”
“I’m happy in here,” wrote Panumat Saengdee, 14, known as Mix. “The SEAL team takes very good care of us.”
The boys’ parents had written to them earlier. The letters, carried by divers making six-hour trips in each direction, are the first direct communication between the parents and their sons. Attempts to establish a phone line to the cavern where the boys are trapped have not yet been successful.
Inside the Thailand Cave: The Obstacle That Faced Rescuers
Divers navigated flooded passages, with some openings as small as 3 feet wide, to rescue the soccer team.
July 6, 2018
“Mom, Dad, I love you guys, and little sister Toi,” wrote Pipat Poti, 15, whose nickname is Nick. “If I get out please take me to a pork barbecue place. I love you, Dad, Mom.”
The boys’ coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, wrote to the parents as a group, promising to take care of them as best as he could. The parents had written to him, assuring him that they did not blame him for the situation.
“Thank you all for the support,” the coach wrote. “I deeply apologize to the parents.”
He also wrote to his own family members — an aunt and his grandmother — asking them not to worry too much about him. “Aunty, can you please tell Granny to prepare vegetable juice and pork snacks?” he wrote. “I’ll eat them when I get out. Love you all.”
— Muktita Suhartono, at the Tham Luang Cave
Why a 15 percent oxygen level had rescuers worried
On Friday, a Thai Navy SEAL commander said the oxygen level in the boys’ cavern was about 15 percent and falling. That wasa concern, because levels below 16 percent can cause oxygen depletion, a condition known as hypoxia.
Under normal conditions, the air people breathe consists of about 21 percent oxygen, 78 percent nitrogen and one percent argon and other gases, including carbon dioxide. When the mix changes, humans can feel a range of health effects, subtle and otherwise.
The United States Federal Aviation Administration reports that hypoxia may cause headaches, nausea, drowsiness, rapid breathing, slurred speech and “diminished thinking capacity,” among other problems. It can also result in incapacitation or, in extreme cases, death.
The air in caves tends to be good, and cavers would typically worry about high concentrations of carbon monoxide, not low concentrations of oxygen, said Dinko Novosel, the president of the European Cave Rescue Association.
But Mr. Novosel said an oxygen concentration of 15 percent or less would be “really problematic” for anyone trapped inside. It would allow people to survive, but make even basic activities difficult, he said.
Raymond Cheung, a professor of neurology at the University of Hong Kong, said the specific health effects would depend on a range of factors. Strenuous activity in such a low-oxygen environment could cause severe problems, especially for anyone with a pre-existing heart or lung condition, he said.
On Saturday, Mr. Narongsak, the official leading the rescue operation, said that at one point the oxygen level had been so low in a chamber where many rescuers were working that nonessential personnel were sent out of it.
He also said that rescuers were concerned about the level of carbon dioxide in the cavern where the boys are trapped.
People naturally release carbon dioxide when they exhale. Professor Cheung said that the carbon-dioxide concentration in air was generally no more than about 0.2 percent, and that a concentration of more than about 5 percent would cause a person to feel breathless. At about 10 percent, he said, a person would become unresponsive.
— Mike Ives in Hong Kong, and Richard C. Paddock at the Tham Luang Cave
Thai diver dies, running out of air in cave
A retired Thai Navy SEAL diver died in Tham Luang Cave when he ran out of air while underwater, the Thai authorities said on Friday.
The diver, a volunteer identified as Saman Gunan, 38, ran out of air while placing spare air tanks along the route to the cavern where the boys are trapped.
Mr. Saman ran into trouble at about 1 a.m. on Friday, and efforts to revive him were not successful, said Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yookongkaew, the Thai Navy SEAL commander.
The operation to rescue the boys is now focused on delivering air and running a communications line to the group’s location from a nearby cavern known as Chamber Three. The distance from there to the group is about 1,700 meters, officials say, and one part of the effort now is to run a hose across that distance to pump air into the team’s chamber.
For now, the only way to communicate between officials coordinating the rescue effort and the group in the cave is by messenger, a journey of about six hours one way.
Installing a communications line would facilitate any rescue operation and allow the boys to talk to their families.
Four Thai Navy SEALs, including a doctor, are with the boys, ages 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old soccer coach.
A video message from a Chilean miner
One of the men rescued from a mine in Chile in 2010 sent a video message of hope to the boys while they were still trapped.
“We are praying for each of you, for each of the families and for these children,” said Mario Sepulveda, who was the second of more than 30 miners pulled to safety in a specially built capsule after being trapped for more than two months, in a rescue televised around the world.
Mr. Sepulveda, who was nicknamed “Super Mario” for his exuberant exit from the rescue capsule, became a motivational speaker after the incident.
In the video released Wednesday, he said he wanted to send “a lot of strength to the authorities and the families of these 12 children who are underground.”
His message was echoed by others who went through the ordeal in Chile.
“They shouldn’t be ashamed to be scared,” Omar Reygadas, another miner, told The Associated Press earlier this week. “Because we were scared, too. Our tears also ran. Even as adult men, we cried.”
— Palko Karasz
Her fields have been flooded, but she approves
Mae Bua Chaicheun, a rice farmer who lives near Tham Luang Cave, wanted to help in the search for the missing boys. So last week, she volunteered for five days at the rescue center, delivering drinking water to soldiers and helping clean up.
When she returned home to her village in the flatlands a few miles from the cave, she found that her fields were flooded with water that had been pumped from the caves in the effort to reach the 12 boys and their soccer coach.
She had already prepared the soil on her five acres and was about to plant rice. Now she has to start over.
But she is not concerned about that. Most importantly, the boys were found alive.
When she saw the news that the boys were found, she said she put her hands together in front of the TV and thanked Buddha.
“I had goose bumps,” she said.
She is one of dozens of farmers downstream from Tham Luang Cave whose fields have been flooded by the surplus water pumped out to reduce flood levels in the cavern.
The government is offering compensation to farmers whose land was flooded. In her case, that would have come to about $430, plus seed and fertilizer. But she said she didn’t want to add to the government’s burden in the midst of the search, and did not register.
“I am more than willing to have my rice fields flooded as long as the children are safe,” she said. “The boys are like my children.”
— Richard C. Paddock, in Nong Oo Village
Experience runs deep for British divers
When two British divers first reached a trapped boys’ soccer team in a flooded cave in Thailand on Monday, they may have experienced some déjà vu.
The divers, Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, are members of the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team, one of 15 such teams in the United Kingdom. And this isn’t the first time they’ve been flown to another country for a cave-rescue mission.
In 2004, Mr. Stanton, a retired firefighter from Coventry, was involved in the successful rescue in Mexico of six Britons who had been trapped in a cave for more than a week — one of the best-known cave rescues in recent history.
According to CoventryLive, a local news site, Mr. Stanton helped persuade one of the British men in Mexico, who was scared of water and had never dived before, to make a nearly 600-foot dive as part of the escape.
Six years later, Mr. Stanton and Mr. Volanthen, an information technology consultant, were flown to France in an attempt to rescue Eric Establie, a climber who had gone missing in a cave. They found his body about 3,000 feet from the entrance.
Queen Elizabeth II later made Mr. Stanton a Member of the Order of the British Empire, or M.B.E., “for services to local government.”
“I was very surprised,” he told a reporter after the award was announced in 2012. “People would say in jest that I should have got an M.B.E.,” he said, adding, “but it’s not something I have really thought about.”
— Mike Ives
In videos, doctor reassures the boys
Video clips taken by a Thai Navy SEAL member showed the 12 boys and their soccer coach in the cave, looking skinny but seemingly healthy and in good spirits.
Divers reached them on Monday night and have been taking them food, medicine and other supplies as officials and diving experts try to figure out how to extract them from the Tham Luang Cave.
In one clip, the boys are sitting, some wrapped in space blankets, as Lt. Col. Dr. Phak Lohanchun, an army doctor who has SEAL training, puts disinfectant on their cuts.
Dr. Phak mentions the rigor of that training and, holding the disinfectant, tells the boys: “I had wounds all over my body. I couldn’t take a bath. To heal the wounds, I had to apply this all over.”
The diver taking the video says to a boy who appears to be one of the youngest, “Show me your smile.”
The boy smiles shyly and holds up two fingers.
In another video, the boys speak briefly in turn to the camera, giving their names and saying they are healthy.
“What do the 13 of you want to say to your fans?” the doctor asks. “Everybody in this world has been following your news.”
The videos were originally posted on the Facebook page of Forest Records, a Thai indie label that recorded a song by a band in which Dr. Phak performs. Two are also hosted on the Royal Thai Navy Facebook page.
— Muktita Suhartono and Richard C. Paddock, at the Tham Luang Cave
The coverage so far
JULY 2: Divers find the team, all alive!
JULY 9: Eight people freed, five left to go.
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