This photo tweeted by Elon Musk shows efforts under way to rescue trapped members of the youth soccer team and their coach from a flooded cave in northern Thailand. Musk tweeted early yesterday he visited the cave and left a mini-submarine there for future use. Picture: Elon Musk via AP
RESCUERS freed the last four of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from deep inside a flooded cave yesterday, a successful end to an extraordinarily perilous mission that gripped the world for more than two weeks.

The “Wild Boars” soccer team, aged between 11 and 16 and their 25-year-old coach became trapped on June 23 while exploring the cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai when a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.

“We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the 13 Wild Boars are now out of the cave,” the Navy Seal unit, which led the rescue, said on its Facebook page, adding that all were safe.

British divers found the 13 hungry and huddled in darkness on a muddy bank in a partly flooded chamber 4km inside the Tham Luang cave complex on Monday last week.

After pondering for days how to get the 13 out, a rescue operation was launched on Sunday when four of the boys were brought out, fitted with breathing masks and tethered to rescue divers.

Another four were rescued on Monday and the last four boys and the coach were brought out yesterday, prompting rounds of spontaneous applause as ambulances and helicopters passed.

Celebrations were tinged with sadness over the loss of a former Thai navy diver who died on Friday while on a re-supply mission inside the cave.

“I want to tell the coach thank you so much for helping the boys survive this long,” said one Chiang Rai woman wearing a traditional dress, tears brimming in her eyes.

“I remember all of their faces, especially the youngest one. He’s the smallest one and he doesn’t have as much experience as the others I felt like he was one of my own children and I wanted him to come home.”

The last five were brought out of the cave on stretchers, one by one over the course of yesterday, and taken by helicopter to hospital.

Three members of the Seal unit and an army doctor, who has stayed with the boys since they were found, were the last people due to come out of the cave.

Officials did not comment on the rescue mission as it took place, so details of the final day of the rescue and the condition of the last five to be brought out were not immediately known.

The eight boys brought out on Sunday and Monday were in good health overall and some asked for chocolate bread for breakfast, officials said.

Two of the boys had suspected lung infections but the four boys from the first group rescued were all walking around in hospital.

Volunteers from as far away as Britain, Australia and the US and US military personnel helped with the effort to rescue the boys.

It appears that the team went into the cave as part of an initiation ceremony which tasked the boys with reaching the end of the cave and returning having written their names on the far wall, but became locked in after a flash flood.

After the boys did not return home from practice, their parents went out looking for them and their bicycles and kit were found at the entrance to the cave, leading to the extraordinary search-and-rescue operation.

Authorities did not reveal the identity of the boys as they were brought out, one by one - although the BBC has named them and The Guardian posted their pictures.

Parents of the four boys rescued on Sunday were allowed to see them through a glass window at the hospital, public health officials said yesterday, but they will be quarantined for the time being.

The boys were still being quarantined from their parents because of the risk of infection and would likely be kept in hospital for a week for tests, officials said.

Fifa said it had been informed by Thai authorities that the 12 boys and their coach “will not be in a position to travel” to the World Cup final match, as invited by the Russian organisers.

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s visit to the operation’s command centre got mixed reaction.

He offered a mini-submarine to rescuers, but it was not deemed practical by the head of the rescue mission, Narongsak Osotthanakorn. - Reuters