Their Mission Complete, Cave Heroes Head Home

Thai SEAL commander Apakorn Yookongkae, second from left, shouts with his officers Thursday before returning to their Chonburi headquarters after completing their rescue mission.

BANGKOK — It’s over. After a total of 20 days, an “impossible” search-and-rescue operation successfully and safely evacuated 12 boys and their football coach from the cave, and now all are recovering at a hospital.

Everyone who was part of the mission has gradually packed up and headed home since Wednesday morning, from Thai navy SEALs to the Nakhon Pathom-hailing Great Naga Water Pump team, who kept their mighty machine running 24 hours over 12 days to keep the cave from fully flooding.

Foreign divers from the world over who aren’t planning to see other parts of Thailand also set off for home and much-needed rest. The two British divers who first discovered the 13 alive inside the cave on July 2 – John Volanthen and Jason Mallison – were accompanied by Thai officials who sent them off on Wednesday night at Chiang Rai Airport.

And in Roi Et, a final homecoming was being prepared for a man who will be remembered as a true hero, Lt. Saman Kunan, who will rest in peace with the deepest gratitude of all those involved.

Thai SEAL commander Apakorn Yookongkae on Wednesday night says goodbye to Chiang Rai residents after completion of the cave rescue operation.
Thai medical, military, SEAL commander and the rescue operation chief on Wednesday night held their hands together in manner of victory after the cave rescue mission completed.
Thai officials on Wednesday night accompany British divers John Volanthen, in white, and Jason Mallinson, in blue, as they’re sent off back to the United Kingdom.
The leader of the Great Naga Water Pump team, Thawatchai Fuengkachorn, smiles Wednesday morning before heading to his hometown in Nakhon Pathom province.
A drawing of Lt. Samarn Kunan, or Lt. Sam, who died Friday during the cave rescue operation, with thank-you notes from the boys and the coach’s families.

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