Twelve teenage football players and their adult coach have been found alive in a cave in Thailand nine days after they went missing.
The team had been missing since June 23, when they did not return to their homes from practice.
The only trace of them had been bicycles and soccer cleats found outside the entrance of the complex, and handprints along the cave walls. Heavy flooding brought on by days of heavy rains have hampered the divers’ efforts to reach the team.
The boys aged 11 to 16 and their coach were found huddled on a ledge deep in the Tham Luang caves by Thai naval special forces.
Rescuers found the boys on Monday in a section of the cave that was on higher ground.
“We found all 13 safe.We will take care of them until they can move,” provincial Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters. “We will bring food to them and a doctor who can dive. I am not sure they can eat as they have not eaten for a while.”
In a 5-minute video shot by rescuers and released to the media, the boys, still wearing their soccer uniforms, are shown sitting or standing on dry ground near an expanse of water. The light from the rescuers seems to hurt the boys’ eyes.
One of the divers asks, “How many of you are there – 13? Brilliant.” The rescue team member then tells them, “You have been here 10 days. You are very strong.”
One of the boys says that he is hungry, while another boy says to the rescuers, “Thank you so much.”
“When the medics have evaluated the kids to see if their health is in good condition, we will care for them until they have enough strength to move by themselves, and then we will evaluate the situation on bringing them out again later,” Narongsak said.
Despite the peril ahead, families and friends, some of whom have maintained a constant vigil outside the cave, hugged each other and cheered at the news.
Thai Navy Seal draining water out of the cave
International experts from the United States, Australia, China and Britain have assisted in the search-and-rescue efforts.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha thanked the international experts and rescuers.
“The Royal Thai Government and the Thai people are grateful for this support and cooperation, and we all wish the team a safe and speedy recovery,” Prayuth’s office said in a statement.
(PHOTO INPUT: FACEBOOK/ EKKAPOL JANTHAWONG)