“Fight on, don’t despair”: the 12 boys and their football coach rescued from a flooded Thai cave complex described on Wednesday how they survived on nothing but dripping water, and even tried to dig their way out.
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 football pitch, complete with goalposts and nets.
A crowd of media and onlookers were penned behind barricades as the boys arrived in vans from the hospital where they had stayed since their rescue from the complex in Thailand’s northern province of Chiang Rai.
“I told everyone fight on, don’t despair,” said one boy, describing how the group had battled to stay alive.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 order in which the boys eventually left the cave did not depend on the state of their health, said their coach Ekkapol Chantawong, whose efforts have been credited by some parents with keeping the boys alive.
“The ones whose homes are the furthest went first, so they could tell everyone that the boys were fine,” he added.