After their daring and dramatic rescue that captivated the world and took 18 days, the 12 Thai cave boys and their coach, Ekkapol "Ake" Chantawong, 25, addressed local and international media in a national broadcast (also streamed live on Facebook by news outlets) in the province of Chiang Rai yesterday, after being released from the hospital earlier than expected.
Looking in good spirits, the Wild Boars team, wearing bright soccer uniforms presented by Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, smiled and waved at the media as they recounted their harrowing ordeal. The boys, ages 11 to 16, admitted that while coach Ake planned the trip beforehand, they did not tell their parents about it, letting them assume it was just soccer practice. One boy who did tell his parents told them they were going to another cave instead of the Tham Luang Nang cave complex.
At the end of the press conference, the boys apologized to their parents for being naughty and lying about the trip. “I know now that if I did not tell them the truth from the start, I will regret it,” said one of the boys.
Contrary to earlier reports, the team clarified that the last time they ate was prior to their excursion. They went without food for 10 days before they were found by British divers. Ake planned the trip inside the cave to last only an hour. They needed to leave by 5:00 p.m., because one of the boys, Peerapat "Night" Sompiangjai, 17, had a birthday celebration at home.
“We only drank water,” said one of the boys, Pornchai "Tee" Kamluang, 16, as reported by Reuters. After finding out that they were trapped in the cave, they found a water source — dripping from stalactites — and remained close to it.
The team did not realize it was raining heavily because they did not hear the rain from inside the cave. However, the group started to notice pools of water as they made their back way through the tunnels, BBC reported.
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"Some [now] asked if we were lost. I said we weren't going in the wrong direction,” said Ake.
The group walked until they found a dry, sandy spot. "We stayed near a water source. We slept at this sand spot. Before we slept, we prayed to Buddha. We thought in the morning, water would come down and officials would look for us. We weren't scared at that time."
After being trapped for more than a day, the coach and the boys decided to take turns digging at cave walls. “We didn't want to wait around until authorities found us,” said Ake.
One of the boys added, "We used stones to dig in the cave. We dug three to four meters."
But going without food for days took its toll. "I had no strength. I tried not to think about food so I didn't get more hungry," added the team's youngest member, 11-year-old Chanin "Titan" Vibulrungruang.
Not having anything to eat, however, was not the foremost concern of the boys. It was their parents’ reactions that filled their thoughts. One of the boys said, “I was afraid. That I wouldn’t [be able to] go home and I would get scolded by my mother.”
When they were finally found by divers John Volanthen and Rick Stanton who had been tapped by the Thailand government for the rescue mission, the boys thought it was a miracle.
“I thought they were Thai officers but when they got out of the water, I saw they were English. I didn't know what to say to them so I just said 'Hello,” recounted Adul San-on, 14, who was the only one from the team who could speak English. In a New York Times story, Adul's citizenship is labeled as "stateless," after his parents "slipped him into Thailand" for a better life. He came from a territory in Myanmar "known for guerilla warfare, opium cultivation and methamphetamine trafficking."
In the days leading to their rescue, the boys said they bonded and became close with the Thai Navy Seals who were tasked to accompany them while rescuers devised a plan to get them out of the cave. The team also regained their strength thanks to the supplies brought in by the divers.
That’s why when the time to leave the cave came, “some of them didn't want to go because they wanted to stay with the Seals,” Ake joked.
The decision who will go out of the cave first came down to who among the team lived farthest from the cave, reports Reuters. "The ones whose homes are the farthest went first, so they could tell everyone that the boys were fine," said Ake.