Food and medical help has reached the 12 boys and their football coach who were found weakened but safe deep inside a flooded cave in northern Thailand nine days after they went missing.
A Thai Navy SEAL commander on Tuesday said the boys and their coach were accompanied by seven SEAL members, and that all those stuck in the cave complex are well.
“Among [the SEALs] is one doctor and a medical science nurse. We have given the boys food, starting with easily digested and high-powered food with enough minerals,” SEAL commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew said at a news conference.
The boys went missing after the cave complex in Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai province was flooded by heavy monsoon rains.
The Thai military said the the boys and coach will have to learn to dive in order for them to leave cave complex, as waiting for the floodwater to recede could take months.
“It is one of the plans (to dive out). But if we are using this plan, we have to be certain that it will work and have to have a drill to ensure it’s 100 percent safe,” Arpakorn said.
The news that the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach had been found sparked jubilation across Thailand.
A British team of divers were the first to reach them on Monday evening at about 10:00pm (15:00 GMT).
“How many are you? Thirteen? Brilliant,” a diver is heard saying in video footage that shows the moment the boys, pale and thin, were found perched on a ledge inside the cave complex.
“We are hungry … Shall we go outside?” one of the boys replies to the rescuers in the video.
“Not today,” the rescuers are heard saying. “Many people are coming. We are the first.”
“You’ve been here 10 days. You’re very strong,” they said.
There had been no contact with the team since they got trapped inside on June 23, after flooding caused by heavy rains blocked the entrance.
“I can’t express how I feel. It’s stunning and I’m very proud – I never expected this day to come,” Adisak Wongsukchan, the father of one of the boys, said after the boys were found.
Reporting from Chiang Rai, Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler said “The families are very happy but they’re very concerned now just how quickly these boys can come out.
“We’re not getting any indication really of how long that’s going to take.”
Divers had been trying to reach a section of the cave called “Pattaya Beach” for days, making painstaking advances in the dark, flooded cave and at times being forced to retreat by rising waters.
But when rescuers arrived at the potential safety spot, they found it to be flooded, too. The football team was eventually found 400 metres further inside the cave.
High-calorie gels and paracetamol are among the supplies that have since reached them and all 13 have undergone an “informal” medical evaluation.
Most of the team were found to be in stable condition while some of the boys had sustained injuries or light injuries, Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said on Tuesday.
The Thai navy SEAL team will now decide how the boys and their coach will be brought to safety. Narongsak said one of the methods under consideration is to coach the group to swim with special breathing masks.
They would keep draining the cave while exploring the mountainside for other entrances, as well. Rain was forecasted to intensify from Wednesday, potentially complicating the rescue effort which could take weeks or even months to complete.
A US cave rescue expert told AP news agency many challenges remained in the operation.
“Supplying them on-site may face challenges depending on how difficult the dives are. Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy,” Anmar Mirza, the US National Cave Rescue Commission coordinator told AP.
“If the dives are difficult, then supply will be difficult, but the risk of trying to dive them out is also exponentially greater,” he added.
The 12 boys belong to the local Moo Pa, or Wild Boar, football team and their coach had taken them on field trips before.
Namhom Boonpium is the mother of 13-year-old Mongkon.
“He’s a good boy. He lived to play football since he was small,” she told Al Jazeera last week.
“I never thought anything like this would happen. Because whenever he would leave home, he’d always ask for permission.”
Before they were found, the principal of Mae Sai Prasitsart school, where six of the boys go, told AFP news agency it had been a painful week.
“We chant and pray and send our support to them to give them power to wait for help to arrive,” Kanet Pongsuwan told AFP.
Family members of the missing cheered and hugged each other when they heard they had been found.
Aisha Wiboonrungrueng, the mother of 11-year-old Chanin Wiboonrungrueng, told AP news agency she would cook her son a Thai omelette upon his return.
Thai people took to social media to celebrate the news and thank the rescue workers, while the hashtag #13ชีวิตรอดแล้ว (the 13 have survived) was trending.
— THAILAND VOLLEYBALL (@thavolleyball) July 2, 2018
The two British divers who found the boys were named as Rick Stanton and John Volanthen. Together with fellow caving expert Robert Harper they had flown in from the UK three days after the boys went missing.
More than 1,000 people have been involved in the rescue operation.