“Fight on, don’t despair”: the 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from a flooded Thai cave complex have described how they survived on nothing but dripping water, and even tried to dig their way out.
The Wild Boars team were making their first public appearance on Wednesday after the long ordeal, waving, smiling and offering Thai traditional “wai” greetings on a national TV broadcast.
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One of the boys, 14-year-old Adul Sam-on, recalled the moment when two British divers found the trapped group on July 2, squatting in a flooded chamber several kilometres within the cave complex.
“It was magical,” he said. “I had to think a lot before I could answer their questions,” added Adul, who speaks English. “Everybody was happy, it was the most hopeful moment in 10 days.”
On Wednesday doctors, relatives and friends – some in yellow traditional clothes – greeted the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach. The team were kitted out in T-shirts emblazoned with a red graphic of a wild boar, and kicked footballs gently on the TV set.
“Bringing the Wild Boars Home”, read a banner in Thai welcoming them on the set, designed to resemble a soccer pitch, complete with goalposts and nets.
Their discovery triggered the rescue effort that brought them all to safety over three days, organised by Thai navy SEALs and a global team of cave-diving experts.
The group had planned to explore the Tham Luang caves for about an hour after soccer practice on June 23. But a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.
“We took turns digging at the cave walls,” coach Ekkapol Chantawong said. “We didn’t want to wait around until authorities found us.”
One of the boys added: “We used stones to dig in the cave. We dug three to four metres.”
“I tried not to think about food so I didn’t get hungry.”
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Their efforts were to no avail, Ekkapol said, adding: “Almost everyone can swim. Some aren’t strong swimmers, however.”
The group, who had eaten before going into the caves, took no food on an excursion that was supposed to last only an hour, and had to subsist on water dripping from stalactites, he said.
“We only drank water,” said one of the boys, nicknamed Tee. “On the first day we were OK, but after two days we started feeling tired.”
Thoughts of their parents also preoccupied the boys, with one admitting, “I was afraid. That I wouldn’t go home and I would get scolded by my mother.”
The boys, who returned home on Wednesday night, all apologised for being naughty, admitting to having told their parents only that they were going to soccer practice, but not about the plans to go into the cave.