The 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were discharged from a hospital in the northern province of Chiang Rai
Thailand’s rescued youth soccer team that spent over two weeks trapped in the flooded Tham Luang cave complex made their first public appearance on Wednesday shortly after being released from the hospital.
The 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were discharged from a hospital in the northern province of Chiang Rai. During a nationally televised press conference, the group smiled, joked and shared details of their traumatic experience inside the flooded cave where some of them spent up to 18 days until a team of international rescue workers was able to save them all.
During the conference the boys recounted convincing their coach on June 23 to take them to the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand, a 6-mile-long winding maze of subterranean passageways, when an unexpected monsoon quickly filled the cave with over three meters of water, trapping them deep inside.
Their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, explained that the boys, tried to search for an exit, but there was none to be found. They eventually found a semi-dry slope where they decided to spend the night thinking they would be able to escape the next morning.
“I told them: Don’t worry, the water might just rise and fall, and tomorrow it might go down,” Ekapol said. “I really thought it was an overnight thing.”
They lay down to sleep on the slope, and Ekapol told the boys to pray.
“After two days, I started to feel weak,” said Pornchai Kamluang, 16, to reporters. At times they even tried to dig themselves out of the cave with their hands rather than remain helpless.
“We didn’t want to do nothing and just wait for help,” Ekapol said. “So we dug holes to find a way to escape and stopped when we were tired.”
Ten days into the ordeal their coach told the group to stay quiet, thinking he heard something.
“We weren’t sure if it was real,” 14-year-old Adul said to journalists. “So we stopped and listened, and it was actually real. There was someone there.”
A diver emerged from the dark cave water.
“It was very magical,” he said. “I was very shocked. Initially, I thought it was a Thai, but I was surprised they were from the U.K. I didn’t know what to say, so all I could say was, ‘Hello,’” recounted Adul.
Over the course of the next week, rescuers worked 24 hours a day plotted a way to get the boys and their coach out alive. Eventually, each SCUBA dove out in full gear escorted by two divers.
The team apologized to their parents and Thai authorities for the trouble they had caused.
During the search and rescue process retired Thai navy SEAL, Saman Kunan, died while replenishing air tanks along the escape route.
“We feel very sad” about his death, Ekapol said. “We are very thankful that he was willing to sacrifice himself to rescue us, to bring us out of the cave so we could lead a normal life.”
They also described the meals they’d eaten while at the hospital for the past week — pork and rice, bread with chocolate spread.
Doctors said the boys had added an average of 6 pounds each and were physically and psychologically fit enough to go home and be with their families.
Later, some boys and their relatives took part in religious ceremonies at Mae Sai’s Wat Pha That Doi Wao temple – an ancient temple with scenic views of the surrounding countryside.
“This experience made me stronger and taught me not to give up,” said the team’s youngest member, who goes by the name Titan.