Thai boys wave, make peace sign in first photo since their rescue

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Nurses chatted with them and the boys responded with the customary Thai sign of respect - hands pressed together while bowing the head.

"Everyone is strong in mind and heart", he said at a news conference of officials involved in the high-risk rescue effort.

After 17 days, all 12 boys and their football coach have emerged from the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai, and the huge rescue mission comes to a close.

The video shows the boys wearing green surgical masks and sitting up in their beds in the isolation ward at the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital, where they're recovering following their 18-day ordeal in a partly flooded underground cave.

The doctor said three of the boys were being treated for minor cases of pneumonia, but predicted most would be discharged after about a week.

The footage, which was posted on the Thai Navy SEAL Facebook page and captioned "the operation the world never forgets", appears to show the workers carrying the boys on stretchers.

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The SEALs commander, Rear Adm. Apakorn Youkongkae, said the boys' coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, told SEALs the order the boys should be rescued in.

"I want this warm hug once again", his widow Valeepoan said on Instagram, posting a photo of her and Saman embracing.

A guidebook describes the relatively unexplored Tham Luang cave as having an "impressive entrance chamber" leading to a marked path and then a series of chambers and boulders.

At U-Tapao civil-military airport in Rayong province, near where the Royal Thai Navy operates out of Sattahip Naval Base, Thai navy SEALs and some foreign military personnel were given a hero's' welcome when they touched down on Thursday.

All 13 were finally brought out after a dramatic rescue through flooded tunnels this week and remain in hospital.

"We will look for a way of securing citizenship for them", said Vitha Tachiboon, of Thailand's youth ministry.

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But the young boy, who comes from a country where only one-third of the population speaks the local dialect, managed to help British rescuers in their operation to pull the young football team to safety.

Without him "this mission may not have succeeded", the Thai rescue chief, Narongsak Osottanakorn, told reporters late Wednesday. Two divers were helping each one make his way through very small passages filled with water.

The method was extremely risky, but dwindling oxygen levels in the cave and fears of more monsoon rains to come made a decision urgent. On Tuesday authorities said some of the boys had asked to eat bread with chocolate spread, but mostly they'll be given a food similar to milk which is rich in proteins and nutrients. They survived the nine days before they were found by drinking water dripping from the cave walls, officials said.

However, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has said precautions would have to be implemented both inside and outside the cave to safeguard tourists.

"This is clearly a time of grief for the Harris family, magnified by the physical and emotional demands of being part of this week's highly complex and ultimately successful rescue mission".

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