The final four boys and their soccer coach were successfully removed from a flooded cave in Thailand on Tuesday, capping a herculean international rescue effort that appeared bleak just days ago.
The dramatic days-long rescue mission was accomplished around 6:30 p.m. local time Tuesday, less than nine hours after the last leg of the operation to save the wayward "Wild Boar" youth soccer team commenced, according to the Thai Navy SEALs.
The announcement that the world had been waiting and praying for appeared on the Thai Navy SEALs Facebook page: "12 wild boars are out of the cave and their coach. Everyone is safe."
The jubilant news came on the 18th day that the 25-year-old coach and the last four boys had spent in the dark and dank Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand.
The massive search-and-rescue operation started in earnest on Sunday, when the first four boys were extracted from the subterranean maze. In just three days, international dive teams managed to get all 13 out of the cave as they raced against astronomical odds and a pending monsoon rainstorm that threatened to swamp the cave again.
After replenishing oxygen in the cave and giving divers time to rest, the final push in rescue effort began at 10 a.m. local time Tuesday. As with the previous rescue efforts, 19 divers entered the cave, with two divers escorting each of the boys and their out of the labyrinth with tethers.
"If everything goes to plan, all will come out today," an official said at a Tuesday midday press conference.
Just hours later, that statement proved true when the divers emerged from the cave with the first boy about 4 p.m. local time. About two hours later, all of the others were rescued.
Chiang Rai Province Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said Tuesday that the first rescue mission took 11 hours to take to bring the first four boys. It took nine hours to take out the next group of boys on Monday and about the same amount of time to complete the operation on Tuesday.
In addition to the coach and four boys, the doctor and three SEALs who have remained in the chamber with the boys were expected to emerge from the cave shortly after.
The last four boys rescued from the cave range in age from 12 to 14.
Officials said the first eight of the boys rescued were healthy, though two of the four brought out Monday did have swollen lungs.
"They are good physically and mentally," a health official said at a separate press conference from Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital.
According to a statement from the hospital, two of the boys already taken out of the cave are suffering from pneumonia.
Early tests indicate all of the boys could be suffering from lung infections, but only two of the first four boys were confirmed. They expected full blood test results in about 24 hours.
"The second four, we moved them yesterday from the cave, the age is from 12 to 14," the commission commander of the medical department said Tuesday. "[They] were alert, and able to identify themselves. When they arrived at Chiang Rai hospital there was a primary medical examination conducted on all four of them. All four are healthy."
The parents are able to see their kids through a glass window, but they are not allowed to make physical contact with them because docs are concern about infection.
The boys can all eat bland foods, but they can't eat anything spicy. The boys are still requesting the Thai basil fried rice, but they're not allowed to eat it yet.
The boys have been in the cave since June 23 when they were exploring the cave and unexpected rain flooded the tunnels. It was 10 days before the boys were miraculously located, and the remaining five have been in the cave for eight days.