BANGKOK, Thailand - On what was to be the last day of rescue operation that started on Sunday, as part of which, eight of the 12 boys had been rescued from the cave they had been stuck in since June 23 - Tuesday proved to wrap up the operation successfully.
All 12 soccer players and their 25-year-old coach, who decided to explore Thailand’s fourth longest cave 18 days back, but got stuck there for more than half a month, managed to be rescued due to a meticulously-planned operation that involved some of the world’s best divers.
The rescue operation was launched at 10 am on Sunday amid treacherous conditions but proceeded faster than expected on the first day.
At the end of the day, four of the boys had been rescued and nine waited inside the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave.
Even though authorities had indicated that they were planning to take a 10- to 20-hour pause, in a bid to allow the cave to be replenished with oxygen and give the team of 18 divers a chance to rest - the operation on Monday started a few hours earlier than decided.
On Monday, dive teams in Thailand managed to lead four more boys through the perilous journey inside the flooded jungle cave, to safety.
The operation on Tuesday started on an optimistic note, with authorities expressing confidence that the four more boys and their adult soccer coach that remained trapped in the cavern inside, would be rescued successfully.
On Tuesday morning, 19 divers involved in guiding members of the young football team through dark, narrow, underwater passages, entered the cave, emerging hours later with the rest of the those that were trapped.
The four remaining boys and their coach that were rescued on Tuesday, were taken to the hospital like the rest of their group.
Later in the day, Thai authorities released a document that described the plan, pointing out that two divers would accompany each of the boys, who were being brought out in groups.
The document read, "Full face masks; two divers accompanying one boy; guided by a rope. When facing a very narrow path, they will release the tank from the back and slowly roll the tank and guide the boy through. They walk from chamber three to mouth of the cave."
According to authorities, while the first batch of boys that were rescued on Sunday were deemed the “weakest,” the four that arrived next, on Monday, were said to be in better health than the first four boys.
On Tuesday, all the four remaining boys and their coach were assessed in the hospital and authorities revealed that two of them were suffering from pneumonia.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-chau also pointed out on Tuesday that the boys were given 'anti-anxiety' medication before they began making their journey out of the caves.
Further, Jedsada Chokdumrongsuk, permanent secretary at the Public Health Ministry, said that the first four boys rescued are now able to eat normal food.
He said that two of them possibly have a lung infection but all eight are generally "healthy and smiling.”
Adding, "The kids are footballers so they have high immune systems. Everyone is in high spirits and are happy to get out. But we will have a psychiatrist to evaluate them."
He further told reporters that it could be at least seven days before they can be released from hospital.
The operation, which saw one Thai Navy SEAL diver lose his life on Friday, has been followed closely by people across the globe.
For over three weeks now, the world has been following the fate of the soccer team, consisting of boys aged 11-16, and their battle for life.
While they are yet to be reunited with their families, they have managed to win themselves a ticket to the World Cup final by FIFA, but it is not likely the young soccer players will make it to the finals due to their health conditions.
All the boys and their coach have now been quarantined in case of an infection and have not been allowed to meet with their parents at the hospital.
Chiang Rai provincial Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn and the head of the joint command centre coordinating the rescue said that the rescue mission that started on Sunday involved international search-and-rescue crews including 90 divers, including 50 foreigners and 40 Thais.
The operation has involved 13 international divers from the U.S. military, China, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan and five Thai navy seals.
How it all started?
On June 23, after the group was reported missing, a search operation was launched.
Investigators confirmed that the boys were inside, after they found their bikes abandoned at the entrance of the cave.
The 12 boys are all part of the Moo Pa (Wild Boar) football team and were believed to have been guided into the cave by their assistant soccer coach, Ekkapol Janthawong.
While authorities tried to gather resources to launch a search operation, efforts were marred by adverse weather conditions, with heavy rains sending torrents of water flooding through the cave.
Over the next few days, the team of Thai Navy SEAL special forces, who put together a team of navy divers, military, police and volunteers, found it difficult to wade through the murky floodwaters, inside the pitch dark cave that is in a dense jungle-covered and muddy mountainside.
With persistent rainfall continuing to flood the cave, the team employed a variety of strategies, including usage of powerful industrial water pumps, drilling through rock to drain water, deploying drones equipped with thermal cameras, sending an underwater robot to analyze the depth and condition of the cave, and even using sniffer dogs to search for the missing group.
However, with local authorities not making any headway, the plight of the young boys and their coach drew an outpouring of emotion across the world.
Several countries then sent some of their best divers to aid in the rescue operation, which increased not only the size, but also the level of expertise of the rescue team - taking the number to 1,000 people, including teams from China, Myanmar, Laos, Australia, the U.S., and the U.K.