The 12 boys and their soccer coach who were rescued from a flooded cave arrive for a news conference in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 18, 2018.
The 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand waved, smiled and offered traditional “wai” greetings in their first public appearance on July 18 at a national broadcast in the northern Province of Chiang Rai.
Doctors, relatives and friends, some in yellow traditional garb, greeted the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, who wore T-shirts emblazoned with a red graphic of a wild boar and carried in footballs they kicked gently on the set.
“Bringing the Wild Boars Home,” read a banner in Thai that greeted the soccer team on the set, designed to resemble a soccer field, complete with goalposts and nets, where the boys sat on a dais, beside five members of the rescue team.
A crowd of media and onlookers was penned behind barricades as the boys arrived in vans from the hospital where they had stayed since last week's international effort to extricate them from a flooded cave complex in which they had been trapped.
“I told everyone fight on, don’t despair,” said one of the boys, recounting how they battled during the excruciating days spent in the cave.
Another, Adul Sam-on, 14, recalled the moment when two British divers
found the 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.” He added, “It was in the evening when we were scratching rocks on the top of the boulder and we heard voices.”
That discovery triggered
the rescue effort that brought them all to safety over the course of three days, organised by Thai navy SEALs and a global team of cave-diving experts.
The group had planned to explore the Tham Luang cave complex 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,” said their coach Ekkapol Chantawong, who has been credited with keeping the boys alive by some of their parents. “We didn't want to wait around until authorities found us.”
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 during their ordeal, he added.
“We only drank water,” said one of the boys, nicknamed Tee.
The team's youngest member, Titan, added, “I had no strength. I tried not to think about food so I didn’t get more hungry.”
June 23: After a morning practice, 12 members of the local football team 'Wild Boars' along with with their 25-year-old coach cycled to the Tham Luang Nang Non cave to explore. But they didn't return, neither could they be contacted. Their bicycles are found parked and locked at the cave entrance as a search begins around midnight.
June 24: Search and rescue teams comprising local authorities, police and rescue workers begin search operation at the cave. Heavy rains hamper the search operation.
June 25: Thai navy SEALs join the search effort. As the search expands, handprints and footprints thought to belong to the boys are found farther from the cave entrance. Parents holding a vigil outside begin prayer sessions. Photo shows family members praying in front of a Buddhist statue near the cave.
June 26: Emergency rescue teams gather in the staging area before entering the cave. Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda told reporters they are seriously handicapped by muddy water that has filled some chambers of the large cave to their ceilings.
June 27: More heavy rainfall stymies search efforts, flooding underground passages faster than water can be pumped out. International experts, along with several other private teams, join the operation.
June 28: Efforts also begin to drain water from the cave by drilling from outside into the mountain. A search for other entrances to the cave intensifies as diving is temporarily suspended for safety reasons.
June 29: Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visits the cave site and urges relatives of the missing not to give up hope. Efforts to drain the cave with pumps make little progress.
June 30: The effort to locate the missing picks up pace again, as a break in the rain eases flooding in the system of caverns and more experts from around the world, including Australia and China, join the rescue mission. In anticipation of finding the boys, an evacuation drill is held to practice how they will be sent to a hospital after leaving the cave.
July 1: Rescue divers advance into the main passageway inside the flooded cave and set up a staging area inside. Thai navy SEALs reach a bend where the kilometer-long passage splits in two directions.
July 2: In this handout photo released by Tham Luang Rescue Operation Center, rescue teams walk inside cave complex. Two expert British cave divers locate the missing boys and their coach. They record a video of the boys talking with them.
July 3: Photo shows rescuers discussing before entering the cave. Thai navy SEALs bring in food and medicine to trapped children. Videos are released and show the boys taking turns introducing themselves, and saying they are healthy.
July 4: A total of seven navy SEALs and a doctor are now in place to stay with the boys. Photo shows a Thai rescuer preparing a light for diving.
July 4: Options are discussed about whether the boys should be taken out of the cave with divers soon or kept in place until conditions improve.
July 5: The boys continue with diving lessons in case a decision is made to extract them through a route that is partially underwater. The effort to pump out water in increased. Picture shows rescuers arranging oxygen for the trapped football team.
July 5: Photo shows food being prepared for rescue personnel at a makeshift camp at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park.
July 6: A grab taken from video provided by the Thai Navy Seal shows the boys and their football coach inside the cave. Officials indicate that they favour extracting the boys as soon as possible, fearing further danger if they are forced to stay inside by more rain causing additional flooding.
July 6: Saman Gunan, a former navy SEAL aiding the rescue effort, dies from a lack of oxygen, raising concern about falling oxygen levels inside the cave.
July 7: Thai soldiers try to connect water pipes that will help bypass water from entering the cave. Officials suggest that an underwater evacuation will be made in the following few days because of predictions of a rainstorm. However, they say the boys’ diving skills are not yet where they need to be.
July 7: Letters that the boys and their coach wrote to the boys’ parents are made public. Tun, a trapped boy, writes: "Mom and Dad, please don't worry, I am fine. I've told P'Yod to get ready to take me out for fried chicken. With love." The coach Aek writes: "To the parents of all the kids, right now the kids are all fine, the crew are taking good care. I promise I will care for the kids as best as possible. I want to say thanks for all the support and I want to apologize to the parents."
July 8: The official heading the rescue operation declares that “D-Day” has arrived as he announces the start of the operation to bring the boys and their coach out of the cave. Divers take four of the boys out through tight passages and flooded caverns.
July 8: Photo shows onlookers being asked to leave the cave site and surrounding roads as the rescue operation begins to evacuate the trapped football team.
July 9: A Thai well wisher puts a poster to pray for boys and their coach in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand. Divers take four more boys to safety during the second day of the rescue operation. This leaves four boys and their coach still inside the cave.
July 10: Divers bring out the remaining four boys and their coach, ending an ordeal that lasted more than two weeks. The boys are airlifted using helicopters.
July 10: The last four Thai Navy SEALs come out safely after completing the rescued mission.
The boys, who sported crisp haircuts, had gained 3kg each on average since the rescue, and ran through confidence-building exercises ahead of the July 18 event, the hospital director said.
The rescue effort drew global media attention and hundreds of journalists, and excitement picking up again in the usually sleepy town of Chiang Rai ahead of the much-anticipated 45-minute live appearance broadcast on dozens of channels.
“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.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn has granted permission for a party 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.
But the moment was bittersweet, as two of the boys held up a framed pencil sketch of Samarn Kunan, 38, the former
Thai Navy diver who died while he worked underwater, laying oxygen tanks along a potential exit route out of the cave complex.
“Everyone was very sad,” said the coach, Ekkapol. “They felt like they were the reason he had to die and his family had to suffer.”