Thai cave rescue: the boys speak publicly for the first time

The 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach who were rescued from a cave last week have been released from the hospital, and they addressed the public during a Wednesday press conference.

Smiling and dressed in matching soccer uniforms, the boys, all between 11 and 16 years old, reported details of their time in the cave. They described that they tried to keep their mind off food and licked the water dripping from the side of the cave walls for sustenance.

“I had no strength at all,” said 11-year-old Chanin Wibulroongreung. “I didn’t think about food because it only made me hungrier.”

They also revealed some details about their ordeal that had not been previously reported. For example, they said that before they were found, they had tried to dig their way out. Some boys also said that they hadn’t told their parents they were going into the cave because they were afraid of being forbidden to join the excursion.

The boys also talked about how they kept up their spirits playing checkers with members of the Thai Navy SEALs while waiting to be rescued.

“[Navy SEAL] Baitoey always won and he was the king of cave,” one of the boys said, according to the BBC.

The questions asked were limited and had been screened by a psychiatrist to ensure that they wouldn’t be too taxing on the boys. And the BBC reported that according to the Chiang Rai provincial governor, this would be their only media session.

According to the New York Times, the boys apologized to their families for sneaking off into the caves, which is known to be very dangerous during the monsoon season:

They wanted to say that they were very, very sorry.

They had not told their parents they would be visiting the cave, a favored spot for exploration, they said. Instead, their families were under the impression the teammates were only going out to practice soccer.

One boy said he hadn’t informed his parents he was going to Tham Luang because he was sure he wouldn’t be given permission.

“I would like to apologize to Dad and Mom,” said Phanumas Saengdee, 13, who recounted how he had secretly put a flashlight for a cave adventure in his soccer bag.

The coach, Ekapol Chantawong, 25, said that they tried to dig tunnels out of the cave once it had gotten flooded. Chantawong was found the weakest because he had given all his food to the boys. Having trained in a Buddhist monastery, he also led the boys through meditation sessions while they were trapped in the cave.

Soccer coach Ekapol Chantawong at the press conference.
Linh Pham/Getty Images

During the press conference, Chantawong also thanked Saman Kunan, the Thai Navy SEAL who died while delivering oxygen tanks into the cave during the rescue: “We are impressed that Saman sacrificed his life to save us so that we could go and live our lives. Once we heard the news, we were shocked. We were very sad. We felt like … we caused sadness to his family.”

The boys will likely be ordained as monks for a short time; according to the BBC, that is a common practice for Thai men and boys who undergo traumatic events.

All last week, the world watched as the soccer team, known as the Wild Boars, were brought out of a partially flooded cave system in northern Thailand. Each boy was carried out on a stretcher by an international team of divers and Thai Navy SEAL members.

The boys had been missing for nine days, and finding them had seemed impossible. But on July 2, they were found by two British divers on the search team. The video of the initial discovery made a celebrity out of one of the boys: 14-year-old Adul Sam-on, a stateless refugee from Myanmar who could speak English and helped communicate with the divers.

After the near-perfect rescue, the boys were quarantined for a week at the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital to confirm that they hadn’t caught any transmissible diseases from their time in the cave. A doctor at the press conference said that they were mentally ready to return to their families and readjust to everyday life.

The BBC reported some of the lessons the boys said they learned from the ordeal: One boy said he would be “more careful and live my life the fullest.” Another said, “This experience taught me to be more patient and strong.”

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