The 12 boys and their football coach who were trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand for more than two weeks said they “tried to dig their way out of the cave.”
The members of the Wild Boars, who were discharged from hospital a day early, took their place on a large stage for their first public appearance since the rescue in a specially arranged press conference in Chiang Rai early this morning.
All dressed in matching team shirts, the boys and their coach spoke about their traumatic experience alongside a medical team, specialist doctors and the Thai Navy SEALs who stayed inside the cave with them once they were found.
Greeted by a banner that read Bringing the Wild Boars Home, the boys introduced themselves to the media and shared what position they play on the team.
The team’s coach, Ekapol Chantawong, also known as Ake, said everyone agreed to go into the Tham Luang caves as they were curious and had never visited them before.
Some of the boys has seen images of the caves on Facebook and wanted to see with their own eyes how it looked, Chantawong said.
He said it was not unusual for the group to do activities after soccer practice on Saturday afternoons.
The Wild Boars entered the caves in the northern district of Chiang Rai on June 23. Their plan was to spend only one hour exploring the cave.
“We went in there and saw a couple of pools of water. This time we went further than that. I said, ‘Do we want to go?’”Chantawong said.
When they decided to turn back around, the tunnel had become partially flooded.
The talk turned to who was the stronger swimmer, so they could test how deep the water was, Chantawong said.
“We were determined to find a way out. We tried to calm down. I told everyone to fight on, to have a good spirit, don’t give up,” he said.
The group discussed whether to move back or venture deeper into the caves.
“One of the boys said there was a way out at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “But then it was decided we would move back into the cave. We had two solutions, wait for the rescuers or try to get out, but we could hear the water rising towards us.”
The soccer team saw the water rising around three metres when they decided to dig at the cave wall to give themselves a safer base, where they were eventually found later.
“I dug around three or four metres,” one of the boys said.
The big wait
The hunger didn’t really begin until the second day, according to the team members. By then, they were feeling weak.
The coach said they drank water trickling down from the rocks inside the cave to survive. The water was clean, he said.
The youngest boy, know as Titan, said he felt “dizzy and weak” and he thought about fried rice and of a dipping sauce popular in the North.
Adul Sam-on, a 14-year-old boy who is the only English speaker, told his teammates to be quiet when he heard voices.
The group was busy digging and looking for a possible exit when some of the boys thought they heard the sound of people talking.
Chantawong told the group to be quiet and asked one of the boys to move closer and shine a flashlight on the water, but the boy was too scared.
Adul, who volunteered instead, said he was shocked when the British divers breached the surface.
“When they came out of the water, I was surprised,” said Adul, adding he didn’t initially know what to say to them. ”I said ‘Hello.’”
A team of experts divers guided the 12 boys and their coach one by one through the darkness and submerged passageways of the cave.
Each boy was accompanied by two divers who also carried their air supply. Sources in the rescue said they were heavily sedated ahead of the rescue to prevent them panicking on the way out.
The decision of who would leave first came down to who volunteered first. Chantawong said “no one rushed to get out of the cave because we were so close to one another.”
The Navy Seals confirmed the decision was voluntary and doctors who played a pivotal role in the boys’ medical care said the order of extraction did not matter once they were all strong enough to leave.
The Wild Boars and their coach were rescued in three stages over three days, which was described as an exhausting round trip involving a mixture of walking, wading, climbing, and diving along guide ropes.
The 38-year-old former Navy SEAL diver who died while he was sending essential supplies to the boys was commemorated by the team.
The picture of Saman Kunan was surrounded by messages from each of the boys, wishing the man peace.
Titan wrote: “I would like to express our condolences. Please rest in peace. Thank you very much for your sacrifice. I felt sorry for the Lieutenant Commander’s family and I want to say thank you.”
The picture will be sent to Kunan’s family.
In a sign of respect, the boys will enter monk hood to pay tribute to Kunan. In Theravada Buddhist practice, it is one of the greatest honours that a person can give to another. When the boys are ordained to be a monk, they will be doing so in honour of Kunan, and therefore donating the merit of the exercise to his memory.