CHIANG RAI - Rescue teams in Thailand on Monday (July 2) found 12 boys and their assistant football coach deep inside a flooded cave complex after an intense nine-day search that captivated the nation and brought in help from around the world.
"Thai Navy Seals have found all 13 with signs of life," the governor of Chiang Rai province, Mr Narongsak Osottanakorn, told reporters. Thai television channels broadcast live from in front of the Tham Luang cave in Mae Sai district.
Joyous screams were heard from relatives and rescue workers at the scene upon hearing the news.
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach disappeared on June 23 during an outing to the cave complex, which runs for 10km beneath the mountains in northern Chiang Rai province.
Aside from belongings left at the mouth of the cave and handprints on the walls, nothing else had been found until late on Monday.
The search rapidly grew into an international operation, with specialist cave divers and other support flying in to help. Specialists from Australia, Britain, Japan and China, including more than 30 US military personnel, joined about 1,000 Thai rescuers.
A major challenge was overcoming rising flood waters in the cave after days of heavy rain.
Mr Narongsak said the boys were in good condition and it would take several hours to bring them out. There were no immediate details on exactly how they were going to be rescued, given that the cave system was still flooded.
Divers from the Thai Seal unit have been stationed inside and there have been frantic efforts to pump out flood water to help rescue teams advance to the large, sandy and dry chamber called Pattaya Beach, where the boys and the coach were believed to have sought refuge.
Dramatic footage was released on Tuesday morning showing the bedraggled team. In the video taken late on Monday and shared on the official Facebook page of the Thai Navy Seals, an unidentified diver can be heard telling the boys, "many, many people are coming... we are the first".
Ambulances have been standing by in front of the cave throughout the week. After the boys and the coach are brought out of the cave and their condition assessed, the ambulances will transport them to hospital within 30 minutes.
Said Mr Narongsak: "We have medic divers stationed and will determine the best thing to do. We are worried the boys might not be able to consume food after days of being trapped."
The father of the youngest boy in the group, 11-year-old "Titan", told a Thai television channel: "I want to tell him I love him. I want to thank all Thais. I want my son to be ordained after he is out of the cave."
One of the rescue workers in front of the cave, interviewed by a Thai reporter, expressed joy at the news. "I am very happy and excited at the moment," he said.