Twelve missing members of a youth soccer team have all been found alive, nearly nine days after they became trapped in northern Thailand’s Tham Luang Nang cave, reports say.
The boys — who range in age from 11 to 16 — and their coach were found late Monday after rescue teams, including members of the U.S. military, had been searching the flooded cave for the team since June 23, Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said, according to the Associated Press.
“We found them safe,” Osatanakorn said, according to the AP. “But the operation isn’t over.”
For days, several rescue teams, including divers with a Royal Thai Navy special operations unit, attempted to make their way through the cave’s flooded passages to find the Wild Boars soccer team.
Meanwhile, friends and family huddled around the opening, praying and performing rituals as the search for the children continued.
The boys were found alive, but were too weak to move at the time of the rescue, CNN reports. They were expected to receive medical treatment before being pulled out of the cave, according to the site.
A Belgian diver a part of the rescue team told ABC News that fresh writing on the wall inside the cave helped authorities find the group.
Although the ordeal lasted more than a week, Thai authorities never gave up hope.
“We are still optimistic they are all alive,” Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon told the Bangkok Post last week. “Even though they may not have anything to eat, they should have water to drink.”
Chiang Rai Deputy Governor Passakorn Bunyalak said last week that the boys would use their athleticism to survive in the cave, according to the New York Times.
“The kids are athletes, and they have skills,” Bunyalak told reporters. “They are alert all the time. And they are always active. They will try to survive by continuing to move.”
Friends and family members told the AP that the teammates often went on adventures with the coach, Ekapol “Aek” Chanthawong, including entering caves, riding their bikes to Myanmar and swimming in waterfalls.
Before his 13-year-old son was found, Thinnakorn Boonpiam told the AP that he often worried about the boy, who would sometimes come home late after being with the team.
“I have asked my son to leave the team several times, but he wouldn’t,” Boonpiam told the publication. “I suppose he enjoys these activities.”
Last week, 13-year-old Songpol, who decided to skip the trip with his teammates, held back tears as he spoke of the team.
“We are all close friends,” Songpol told the AP. “I want to see my friends soon.”