By Kocha Olarn and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN
Rescue teams have found all 12 boys and their soccer coach alive in a cave in Thailand nine days after the group went missing, according to a high-ranking person involved in the search and rescue operation.
The boys, who range in ages from 11 to 16 years old and are all members of the Wild Boar soccer team, entered the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system on Saturday, June 23, for a team outing, but became stranded in the dark tunnels by a sudden and continuous downpour.
The international rescue operation — which includes the Thai Navy SEALs as well as experts from the US, China, Australia and the UK — had been working to reach a large, deep chamber, informally named Pattaya Beach, where they believed the missing boys had taken refuge.
“I confirm they are all safe,” Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters on Monday night.
Osottanakorn said the rescuers had managed to reach Pattaya Beach and found that it was also flooded. The Thai Navy SEAL divers continued a further 300 to 400 meters where they located the team.
“Our mission (is) not done yet,” Osottanakorn said. “We will drain all water out from the cave then we will take all 13 people out of the cave. We are now planning how to send nurse and doctor inside the cave to check their health and movement. We will work all night.”
The governor added that authorities are also trying to send food into the cave but were unsure if “they can eat it or not because it is almost 10 days.”
In Thailand, the search efforts have captured the public’s attention with wall-to-wall media coverage as many waited with bated breath for a positive outcome.
Next phase of rescue
Outside the cave system, there were exhausted but jubilant scenes on Monday night. Families — many of whom have maintained a constant vigil since the team went missing — could be seen cheering the good news on a live feed from the Facebook page of the Chiang Rai provincial Public Relations Department.
Tim Newton, a journalist based in Phuket, told CNN it will take time to get the boys out of the cave.
“Now they’ve got to try and figure out how to get these 13 very weak footballers out of the caves and that is going to be an enormous task,” Newton said. “They’ve got some medical doctors who are also divers, who are ready to get into the caves. They clearly want to stabilize the boys before they try and bring them out.
“There is some talk they may try to bring them out as early as tomorrow but the most important thing is try and stabilize them,” he added.
A park officer first sounded the alarm after spotting the boys’ bicycles near the entrance to the off-limits cave complex.
The cave labyrinth is popular with tourists and for the first kilometer (0.6 miles) or so inside the cavernous entrance, limestone rock formations hug high ceilings, creating an almost amphitheater-like atmosphere.
Late last week trekkers discovered a hidden opening deep in the jungle giving an alternative point of entry to the cave system.
The natural chimney, around 1.5 meters in diameter and at least 22 meters (72 feet) deep, was found to the north of the opening of the cave, where the boys’ bikes were found last Saturday.
Update: The spelling of the Chiang Rai Governor’s name has been updated to reflect the latest spelling from the province’s Public Relations Department.