The last of the 12 young Thai soccer players and their assistant coach were rescued Tuesday from a flooded cave, marking an end to a 17-day saga that has gripped the world.
Ever since the boys' shoes and backpacks were discovered on June 23 near the Tham Luang Nang Non cave entrance in the country's north, a monumental operation involving experts and volunteers from around the world was put into motion.
It was a high-risk mission from the start. Heavy rains worsened water levels. Narrow passageways in the cave complex were barely passable. Some of the boys did not know how to swim, plus the group was weakened after nine days in darkness with little food or water.
Thai teams of Navy SEALs, divers, doctors and volunteers played an instrumental role, but they were not alone. Of the 90 divers involved, 50 were foreigners. Heroes from around the world jumped to help in the prolonged and dangerous operation.
The volunteer who gave his life
Former Thai Navy SEAL Saman Gunan, who was volunteering in the rescue mission, made the ultimate sacrifice.
Gunan, 38, was placing oxygen tanks for divers to use along the route to reach the boys' in the cave. On his way back, Gunan ran out of oxygen and lost consciousness, according to a commander.
"The determination and dedication of Saman will always be in all of our frogmen hearts," the Thai Navy SEALs said in a statement after his death. "Today Saman rests. We will complete this mission, just as Saman intended."
A tribute Facebook page to Gunan shows him as an avid runner and cyclist. He is survived by his wife.
Gunan posted a video of himself the day before he flew north to help with the rescue mission.
"See you at Tham Luang in Chiang Rai,'' he says in the clip. "May good luck be on our side to bring the boys back home."
Dr. Richard Harris, who has 30 years of cave-diving experience, played a major role in the rescue operation, reported Sky News Australia. He was supposed to be on holiday, according to Australia's ABC News, but he was summoned to assist in the mission by U.K. officials.
According to Julie Bishop, Australia's foreign affairs minister, Harris helped rescue teams decide the order in which the boys were extracted from the cave.
"He has just got so much experience of diving in so many different places around the world," Harris' friend, Michael Eaton, told the Australian news site.
We have been told Adelaide anesthetist Richard Harris continues to play central role in #ThamLuangRescue, diving each day all the way to where the boys are trapped to check their condition before clearing them to dive. He only leaves the cave when last boy rescued each day— amanda hodge (@hodgeamanda) July 10, 2018
Andrew Pierce, clinical director of Australia's emergency response team MedSTAR, told News.com that Harris' medical knowledge and technical expertise have made him a go-to person for these types of operations.
"In this small fraternity of people, when you get asked for by name you're known worldwide for your skills," he said.
But Harris experience has not come without hardship, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
In 2011, Harris was part of a team that worked to recover the body of fellow diver and friend Agnes Milowka, who ran out of air while diving in a cave in south Australia.
Two British divers, Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, were believed to be the first to reach the stranded players, according to The Guardian.
Stanton is a retired firefighter while Volanthen does IT consulting work, according to The Associated Press.
Both have years of experience in cave rescues — they're the "A-Team" of cave divers, according to the vice chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council. The pair played a crucial role in the mission and helped map the Luang Nang Non Cave.
Volanthen told the Sunday Times in 2013 that the trick to cave diving is staying calm.
"Panic and adrenaline are great in certain situations — but not in cave diving," he told the paper. "The last thing you want is any adrenaline whatsoever."
Although Stanton has extensive experience in major rescue operations — he led a mission to save six soldiers from floodwaters in Mexico in 2004, according to the Washington Post — he told Divernet in 2013 that he considers his work "entirely voluntary" and a "hobby.'
The Danish diver
Danish diver Ivan Karadzic, who runs a diving business in Thailand, volunteered by helping to provide oxygen tanks.
This is Ivan Karadzic, another one of the team of divers with the international rescue team. He was stationed at a notoriously difficult stretch of cave about half-way along, and his job was to replace air tanks and help guide the team. He is Danish. 🇩🇰 #ThaiCaveRescue pic.twitter.com/oNcuJ10p0W— Wasan (@WasanS2000) July 10, 2018
Speaking to Danish service Ritzau on Sunday after the first four boys were rescued, Karadzic said there were fears of "catastrophic situations" like equipment malfunctions or the boys panicking and losing their oxygen lines.
"We were prepared for that, but it didn't happen. Everyone was on the spot and did their jobs exactly," he said.
Speaking later to the BBC, Karadzic described the boys as "incredibly strong."
"They are getting forced to do something that no kid has ever done before. It is not in any way normal for kids to go cave diving at age 11."
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Six rescue experts from China were dispatched to the cave, the Chinese embassy in Bangkok said in a statement. It noted the team had experience in life-saving rescues in Myanmar and Nepal.
A private group called Green Boat Emergency also sent members to assist in the operation.
"Our skills are search and rescue on mountains and in caves. We hope we can help," Wang Xudong, a member of the group, told The Associated Press.
Chinese rescue team members preparing to dive into a cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand. With more rain coming, Thai rescuers are racing against time to pump out water from a flooded cave before they can rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach with minimum risk.#ThailandCaveRescue pic.twitter.com/zX02GUPuiv— CCTV (@CCTV) July 6, 2018
The U.S. contingent
A U.S. military team of around 30 members was dispatched to assist in the rescue mission. Jessica Tait, an air force captain with the American team, told The Guardian that she sensed a "strong hope" among the international teams in the rescue camp.
"One thing I'd like to note about the mood in this camp is that we've all been in here as a family, working together, and I never sensed anyone being demotivated," she said.
A medic and three Thai Navy SEALS were the last to leave the cave on Tuesday, signalling the end of the gruelling rescue mission.
"We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what," the Thai Navy SEALS wrote on Facebook. "All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave."
With files from The Associated Press