'Scared I would get told off by my mum': Thai cave boys front media
Advertisement

'Scared I would get told off by my mum': Thai cave boys front media

"I was scared that I would get told off by my mum"; "I tried to stay calm and I tried to think of a way to get out"; "I told everyone to fight on, don’t despair".

That's how some of the 12 "Wild Boars" remember the moment they realised they were stuck inside Tham Luang cave, where they would end up for more than two weeks before their dramatic rescue.

Sporting their soccer jerseys, fresh haircuts and plenty of smiles, the 12 boys and their 25-year-old coach have fronted the media for the first time since the rescue.

They revealed how they passed the time for 10 days before rescuers found them – and how it felt when the divers appeared.

Advertisement

The group had originally planned to explore the cave complex for about an hour after soccer practice on June 23. But a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.

The coach, Ekaphol "Ake" Chantawong, said he and the boys tried to dig their way out as they did not want to wait for authorities to find them.

"We took turns to dig until the night," he said. "There’s no food, there’s no water, but before we went to dig we drank a lot of water."

Coach Ekkapol "Ek" Chantawong, left, speaks on behalf of the 12 boys and himself and their cave rescue.

Coach Ekkapol "Ek" Chantawong, left, speaks on behalf of the 12 boys and himself and their cave rescue.Credit:AP

But their efforts were to no avail, he said, adding, "Almost everyone can swim. Some aren't strong swimmers, however."

The group, which had eaten before going into the caves, took no food on the excursion, and had to subsist on water dripping from stalactites in the cave, he said.

"We only drank water," said one of the boys, Pornchai "Tee" Kamluang.

"I had no strength. I tried not to think about food so I didn't get more hungry," added the team's youngest member, who goes by the name Titan, and was greeted with a rousing cheer from the audience on his arrival at the media conference.

The boys, who sported crisp haircuts, had gained 3 kilograms each on average since the rescue, and ran through confidence-building exercises ahead of Wednesday's event, said hospital director Chaiwetch Thanapaisal.

'It was a miracle'

Adul "Dul" Sam-on, the boy who spoke English with the British divers who found the group, said "it was a miracle, it was a miracle, I was shocked". The coach said he couldn't speak English and kept trying to ask someone to translate.

To laughter from the audience, one of the boys said: "I told coach to calm down".

Loading

Asked what they had learnt from the experience, one boy said "I have learnt the value of things in myself and this experience makes me stronger".

The team also spoke about what dreams they wished to pursue now that they survived the ordeal. Most said they wanted to become professional soccer players; while some added they wanted to continue their education, make their parents proud, and join the Navy SEALs.

The Navy SEALs who stayed with the boys for eight days became like their family, the boys said. "We ate together, we played together," said one boy.

"I called him 'dad' and he called me 'son'."

Ake said they were all saddened to hear that one of the SEALs had died trying to save them, and blamed themselves for his death.

The soccer team shows their respect and thanks as they hold a portrait of Saman Gunan, the retired Thai SEAL diver who died during their rescue attempt.

The soccer team shows their respect and thanks as they hold a portrait of Saman Gunan, the retired Thai SEAL diver who died during their rescue attempt.Credit:AP

"When we learnt that someone had died in order to help us out of the cave, we were all shocked and we were so sad. It was all because of us that he sacrificed himself, and his family would be sad because he passed."

All of the boys said the first thing they wanted to say to their parents was "sorry".

The Wild Boars and their coach left hospital on Wednesday afternoon, local time, for the nationally broadcasted news conference in the northern province of Chiang Rai.

Vans painted in silver and pink drove the 11 to 16-year-old boys and their old coach, out of the hospital where they have stayed since last week's international effort to extricate them from the flooded cave complex.

The government allotted a 45-minute slot for the conference on its Thailand Moves Forward program, which was televised live on dozens of local channels around 6pm (9pm AEST).

The boys' friends gathered to greet them on the set for the broadcast, designed to resemble a soccer field, complete with goalposts, nets and scattered with black-and-white footballs, while benches stood on a dais for the boys to sit on.

Members of the rescued soccer team and their coach are greeted by their friends before the press conference.

Members of the rescued soccer team and their coach are greeted by their friends before the press conference.Credit:AP

"Bringing the Wild Boars Home," read a banner in Thai hung above the platform.

The team and some rescuers were asked a series of questions submitted by journalists in advance, officials said.

"We don't know what wounds the kids are carrying in their hearts," said Justice Ministry official Tawatchai Thaikaew, who asked for the boys' privacy to be respected after the discharge, for fear that media attention could affect their mental health.

"The media know the children are in a difficult situation, they have overcome peril and if you ask risky questions then it could break the law," he told reporters.

Images from the Thai Navy SEALs show the rescue taking place.

Images from the Thai Navy SEALs show the rescue taking place.

Two British divers found the group on July 2, squatting on a mound in a chamber several kilometres inside the complex. All were brought to safety during the three-day rescue, organised by Thai navy SEALs and a global team of cave-diving experts.

Some Thai television personalities joked that the boys' appearance would boost ratings for an otherwise dull show that usually features discussions of the military government's performance.

"This is the story all Thais want to hear. Don't switch it off, don't put it on mute," joked a presenter of Voice TV, a broadcaster that is often critical of the military government.

"It should help the Thailand Moves Forward show's ratings shoot through the roof."

Photo taken of the boys after they were found.

Photo taken of the boys after they were found.

The rescue effort drew global media attention and attracted hundreds of journalists, many of whom left after it wrapped up. But excitement picked up again in the usually sleepy town of Chiang Rai ahead of the boys' much-anticipated appearance.

"The reporters are back. I had to pick up a Japanese reporter from the airport at 2am," said tour operator Manop Netsuwan.

Loading

A cartoon of the group with its rescuers, captioned "Our Heroes", was displayed on a welcome screen at the airport.

"I pass the hospital where the children are staying every day and I say a prayer to thank Lord Buddha for their return," said Duang, a noodle vendor, who asked to be identified only by her first name.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn has allowed a party to be held in the Royal Plaza, a public square in Bangkok's old town, to thank the Thai and foreign participants in the rescue, the government said.

Earlier, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters the celebration would feature a banquet and entertainment.

with Reuters

Jenny Noyes is a journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a writer and editor at Daily Life.