Bangkok, July 18 (IANS) Twelve boys and their soccer coach who were last week rescued from a flooded cave in northern Thailand after becoming trapped spoke to the media for the first time on Wednesday.
Members of the Wild Boars soccer team were discharged from hospital earlier in the day in Chiang Rai, where they had been recovering and receiving medical and psychological support after they were rescued from the cave in an ordeal that lasted over two weeks and gripped the world’s attention.
The boys, all of whom are aged between 13 and 17, appeared healthy and in fine spirits as they faced the media for the first time since their rescue, Efe news reported.
They were joined during the briefing by the Thai Navy SEAL divers who had helped with the rescue effort and who had stayed with them after they had been found.
At the press conference, during which pre-vetted questions that were approved by a psychologist and asked through a moderator, the coach, 25 year-old Ekapol “Ake” Chantawong, described in detail how the team had become trapped inside the cave by a flash flood which blocked their exit.
Coach Ake described how the water levels rose dramatically in less than an hour stranding them on a ledge and how they attempted to dig their way out. “At least we were trying to do something,” he said.
Ake also denied reports that some of the boys were unable to swim their way to freedom. “We can all swim. Some stronger than others, but we could all swim,” he said, adding that the rising floodwaters had made any escape impossible.
Some of the boys said they never lost hope of being able to escape the cave. “I told them (his teammates) to believe, to stay strong,” one of them said.
The group also spoke of their gratitude towards the rescue workers and of the bond they developed with the Thai Navy SEALs who stayed with them after they had been located.
“I feel like they are my dads,” one boy said, while another said: “I’m glad that he kept us busy and found something for us to do.”
The team entered Tham Luang cave located in the northern province of Chiang Rai during an excursion on June 23 after completing a soccer training session, when a sudden storm flooded the exit.
Their whereabouts were not known for nine days until they were found four kilometres from the entrance on July 2. They were rescued in batches of two from July 8-10.
Former Thai Navy SEAL Samarn Kunan, who lost his life during the operation, was hailed a hero.