Cave rescue. Linh Pham/Getty Images; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
After surviving 17 days inside a flooded cave in northern Thailand, the final members of a Thai boys soccer team and their coach were rescued Tuesday.
The final five stranded members of the team — four boys and their coach — were helped out by rescue divers on Tuesday evening local time, ending a three-day rescue operation.
The third day saw the rescue run quicker and more smoothly than ever before. The total turnaround for the final five was around 8 hours, 30 minutes.
The Thai navy confirmed the news followed by the slogan "Hooyah."
All 12 boys and the coach were taken straight to hospital from the mouth of the cave in Chiang Rai province, near the Myanmar border.
They were followed hours later by rescue divers and medics, who stayed in the cave to dismantle the apparatus of the mission.
At around 9.30 p.m. local time, authorities held a press conference where they confirmed that everybody was out and celebrated "mission accomplished."
At the celebration press conference, mission chief Narongsak Osotanakorn also paid tribute to former Thai Navy SEAL Saman Kunan, who died on a mission to get oxygen to the stranded team members.
He was the only casualty of the mission.
The boys and coach were led out of the cave along a 2.5-mile path, around 0.6 miles of which was underwater.
They were led through the dark cave by lamps and torchlight, and put on full face masks linked to oxygen tanks to breathe while navigating tight crawl spaces on their way out.
This diagram shows how the rescuers helped the Thai boys out, two divers to a boy:
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Before going underwater, the boys were given anti-anxiety pills to calm their nerves while swimming. They all had to be taught how to dive — and some of them had to be taught how to swim — before leaving.
After each boy left the cave, he was taken straight to hospital. The boys face a long recovery, which is estimated to take more than a week.
While in the hospital they will be in quarantine and have a limited diet. Initially they will need to wear sunglasses to protect their weakened eyes from natural light. You can read more about their recovery here.
Rescue personnel near the caves on Tuesday, the third day of rescues. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
The leader of the rescue operations, Narongsak Osatanakorn, had told a press conference on Tuesday that the mission, which he said began at 10:08 a.m. local time, was expected to conclude by the end of the day.
"Today we might have to wait longer, but it will be worth the wait," he told reporters.
Onlookers cheered as ambulances delivered the rescued boys to a hospital in Chiang Rai, Thailand, on Sunday.
Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images
Osatanakorn said officials did not want to waste time because of intensifying rain that could halt rescue efforts.
"Water levels are the same like the last two days," he said.
At least 19 divers were involved in the mission to bring the last four boys and their coach to safety.
The team went missing on June 23 while exploring the caves. They were dry when they entered, but while inside the caves were hit by a flash flood, which trapped the team there.
Nobody on the outside sure where they went until they were discovered nine days later, around 2.5 miles into the system of caves, cold and weak from lack of food or shelter.
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The members of the team are aged 11 to 16, and they went in with their 25-year-old coach.
After being found, rescuers spent several days bringing supplies to the team, building their strength, and assessing their options.
The rescue missions began on Sunday, after officials judged that time was short because of approaching monsoon rains and depleting oxygen levels inside the cave.
The audacious rescue was fraught with risk, but every boy managed to make it out safely.
Journalists present at the press conference Tuesday reported that Narongsak concluded by saying: "We have done what others thought was impossible."