By Panu Wongcha-um and John Geddie
CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – Thais reacted with relief, gratitude and exhilaration on Wednesday after the successful rescue of the last group of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave complex, ending a 17-day ordeal that gripped Thailand and the world.
The last members of the group of 13 from the “Wild Boars” soccer team were brought out of the flooded cave on Tuesday night and taken by helicopter and then by road to a hospital about 70 km (45 miles) from the Thames Lung cave.
They joined their team mates in quarantine there and will remain in hospital.
The group was rescued after 17 days inside the vast cave complex in northern Thailand where they had ventured after soccer practice on June 23.
The rescue dominated front page headlines in Thailand.
“All Wild Boars Saved,” read one headline.
“Hooyah! Mission accomplished,” read another, echoing the rallying cry of the Thai navy SEALs involved in the rescue.
The hashtag #Hooyah was also hugely popular with Thai netizens wanting to show their support for the hundreds of rescuers, including divers from around the world, who helped to get the boys out.
Rescue mission chief Narongsak Osottanakorn thanked people in Thailand and around the world at a news conference on Tuesday for their well wishes and support.
“This mission was successful because we had power. The power of love. Everybody sent it to the 13,” Narongsak told reporters. He confirmed that three navy SEALs and a doctor who had been with the boys inside the cave also emerged safely.
The boys’ parents would be able to visit them, he said.
“They have gone home to shower … and then they will be able to visit them, through a glass panel, at the hospital,” Narongsak told reporters.
For graphic on hope for the 13 trapped in Thai cave click https://tmsnrt.rs/2KR2zRj
Audiences around the world cheered the team’s successful rescue after the saga generated messages of help, prayers and – finally – expressions of relief.
The drama in Thailand has even resonated as far as Russia, where the World Cup is reaching its final stages. Players from France and England welcomed news of the rescue and sent their best wishes to the “Wild Boars” on Twitter.
“This victory goes to the heroes of the day, well done boys, you are so strong,” French midfielder Paul Pogba tweeted after his team beat Belgium 1-0 overnight to reach the final.
Manchester City and England defender Kyle Walker, whose team faces Croatia in the second semi-final later on Wednesday, said he wanted to send shirts to the boys.
“Amazing news that all of the Thai kids are out of the cave safely!” Walker tweeted.
A Google search on Tuesday for the words “Thai cave rescue” revealed 359 million results, with interest peaking since last week when British divers found the boys and the rescue mission began.
Araya Hargate, one Thailand’s top actresses and a L’Oreal cosmetics brand ambassador, shared a cartoon of the boys surrounded by rescuers on her Instagram page, which has 7.9 million followers.
“After all … the world is not such a bad place #humanityfaithrestored #thailandcaverescue,” the actress, known in Thailand as “Chompoo”, wrote.
Thai officials were expected to hold a news conference on Wednesday to provide updates on the health of the 12 boys and their 25-year-old coach.
Narongsak told reporters that a detailed breakdown of the escape route and rescue mission would also be provided.
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and John Geddie in CHIANG RAI; Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng in BANGKOK; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Paul Tait)