A grueling, 18-day ordeal that had riveted the attention of much of the world ended Tuesday with three simple — and, to many, surprising — words: “Everyone is safe.”
Those three words posted on Facebook marked the successful conclusion of the daring rescue mission to extricate 12 boys and their soccer coach from the treacherous confines of a flooded cave in Thailand.
Thailand’s Navy SEALs, the group of individuals who were central to the unusually risky rescue effort, celebrated the feat with a post that read: “All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave.” Wild Boars was the name of the boys’ soccer team.
More to the point — and a question that will likely never be answered — was the final sentence of the post: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what.”
The plight of the boys and their coach captivated much of the world — beginning with the news that they were missing, to the first flickering video of the huddle of anxious yet smiling boys when they were found by a pair of British divers 10 days later.
They had been trapped in the sprawling Tahm Luang cave on June 23 when it became flooded by monsoon rains as they were exploring it following a soccer practice.
Each of the boys, ages 11 to 16 and none of whom had any diving experience, was guided out by a pair of divers in a three-day, high-stakes operation that began Sunday and continued into Monday and Tuesday.
The route, in some places nothing more than a crawl space a mere 15 inches wide, had oxygen canisters positioned at regular intervals to refresh each team’s air supply.
Cave-diving experts had warned it was potentially too risky to dive the youngsters out, a fear that was underscored last week when a former Thai Navy SEAL died while replenishing the canisters along the route.
Thai officials, acutely aware that the boys and their coach could be trapped for months by monsoon rains that would swell waters in the cave system, seized a window of opportunity provided by relatively mild weather. A massive water pumping effort also made the winding cave more navigable.
The confidence of the diving team and expertise specific to the cave grew after Sunday’s rescue mission brought out four of the 12 boys. Four more were brought out Monday, with the final four and their coach rescued on Tuesday.
The final rescue effort on Tuesday was followed a few hours later by the safe return of a medic and three SEAL divers who had stayed for days with the boys in their refuge in the cave.
Acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn, leader of the rescue effort, said it best at a news conference after the last of the boys and their rescuers emerged from what many feared would be their tomb: “We did something nobody thought was possible.”
And the world breathed a sigh of relief.
As is the case with nearly all earthly miracles, this one came with a price. The Navy SEAL who lost his life should never be forgotten as one of the heroes in the world’s celebration of this operation. His was the ultimate sacrifice.