Thai cave rescue: It was mission impossible, but we did it - all of trapped football team is brought out of Thai cave
Images will live forever: rescue chief
Eighteen days after entering the caves on a team-bonding session, the remaining lost boys and their coach, as well as all rescue and medical personnel, emerged alive and well yesterday following a daring and precarious operation which saw one volunteer Navy Seal lose his life.
Narongsak Osatanaskorn, the former governor who has led the rescue, made the official announcement at 9.45pm after a tense few days of rescue missions.
- Thai cave rescue: Day by day... how the dramatic operation to bring the boys and their coach to safety unfolded
"I never imagined this could happen - but we did it. We completed mission impossible," the beaming rescue chief told hundreds of reporters and support crew, before stepping forth and inviting the crowd to join him and pose for photos.
The happy snap session went on for some time. After 10 minutes had passed, Mr Narongsak was at the centre of a crowd that could be heard chanting "hooyah, hooyah, hooyah" - the call sign of the Thai Navy Seals, who played a major role in the three-day operation.
In an impassioned address, the co-ordinator said the rescue effort would serve as a "lesson to the world."
He spoke about the "spirit of love" that had characterised the 18-day marathon to locate and evacuate the boys and said that heroes had been created in Mae Sai - "10,000 of them".
"Images from these days will live on forever," he added.
The team of expert divers from Thailand and around the world completed their improbable mission some 60 hours after a round-the-clock operation was launched on Sunday morning, as seasonal monsoon rains threatened to trap the boys and their coach in the caves for months. The 13 were stranded on a 10-square-metre ledge more than a mile inside the cave without proper food, water, sanitation or sunlight until they were discovered by a pair of British divers on July 2.
Conditions improved after rescuers made contact but fears about poor oxygen levels and the ominous monsoon kept the watching world on edge.
The jubilant rescue chief announced that the families of the five who came out of the cave would be able to visit their loved ones this evening - a reversal on the previous two batches of four to emerge, who had to wait 24 hours to see theirs.
Gobchai Boon-orrana, the deputy director of Thailand's department of disaster prevention and mitigation, was equally elated in addressing the crowd.
"Today, I don't want to talk about work," he announced.
One of the lead hands on the mission, Mr Gobchai referred to those rescued as his "13 grandsons". He joked that Thailand now had a new internationally famous tourist attraction, following wall-to-wall coverage of the cave rescue right around the globe.
Finally, he paid tribute to Saman Gunan, the 38-year-old Navy Seal who lost his life in the caves leading up the eventual rescue, declaring him a hero of the Thai people and the world.
"May he rest in peace - the hero of Thung Luam," Mr Gobchai added.
The local police commander, Major General Churat Pan-ngao, also took his turn to speak, first thanking the media for following official orders here as the rescue operation unfolded.
He then turned his attention to a reporter who was detained for flying a drone near the cave mouth, explaining that he had been sent to court today and fined 10,000 Thai baht (£227).
The police chief said that he would do the offender the favour of keeping his identity secret.
But Polish journalists in Mae Sai have identified the man as Woytek Bojanowski, who they say is the nation's reigning journalist of the year.
Mr Narongsak said more details would be released on how the rescue was set up and carried out.
He said that all 13 people rescued from the cave were in stable condition at a hospital in Chiang Rai - which Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited on Monday - and that more details about their health would soon be released.
Earlier in the evening the Thai Navy Seals celebrated the successful and unlikely mission with a Facebook post: "We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave," it read.
Another post featured their call to arms, which is catching fire all around a country that last night breathed a collective sigh of relief: "Hooyah."