The harrowing experience of 12 Thai youth soccer players came to a happy conclusion when rescue workers safely pulled them from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave they became trapped in.
The team made its first public appearance on Wednesday, July 18 and the boys talked about their experience from the moment the cave collapsed to their rescue ten days later. The press conference was held in Chiang Rai and the boys were happy to show off that they were in good health and good spirits.
During the conference, 25-year-old coach Ekapol Chantawong finally answered the question of “why” they had even entered the cave. While it was speculated that an initiation rite had been the cause, Chantawong explains it was simple curiosity.
They explored the cave for about an hour before deciding to turn back. When they turned back to the entrance, they found themselves trapped by flooding. Hoping to find another way out, they moved deeper into the cave and were met with perilous conditions.
“The water went up to my shoulders,” Chantawong explained, speaking on sections of the cave that were flooded with water.
The coach did his best to keep his team inspired. He told them “to fight and not be defeated,” even as hours turned into days. As the team recalls, they had no food or water. Eleven-year-old Chanin Vibulrungruang explained during the conference, “I felt weak and very hungry. I drank water to make me full.”
When it was clear how dire their situation was, the boys started to dig into the cave walls. “I could dig [10 to 13 feet] with rocks to find a way out,” Chanin said.
Chantawong knew digging was futile and advised the boys to stop and conserve their energy. By day ten, it would have been easy to give up, but then the team heard it - a voice speaking in English.
A pair of British divers approached the team as part of a search-and-rescue mission. Finally, their ordeal would come to an end. Fourteen-year-old Adun Sam-On recalls the moment the divers located the team. He was in such shock that he could only muster a “Hello!”
As the rescue took some time, members of the Thai Navy SEALS sat with the boys and played checkers until the decision was made to extract the boys via the floodwaters.
Though the conference was generally jovial, the mood shifted when the team discussed Lt. Col. Saman Gunan, the retired SEAL that died during the rescue mission. “I would like to express our condolences and hope you rest in peace,” Chanin said, reading from a message he wrote on a drawing to Gunan. “Thank you very much for your sacrifice and I felt sorry for Lt. Col. Gunan’s family.”
Ultimately, the boys walked away with a valuable lesson. “This experience taught me not to live life carelessly,” Pipat Bodhi explained.
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