The 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from a flooded Thai cave complex have revealed harrowing details of how they survived on nothing but dripping water, and even tried to dig their way out.
The members of the Wild Boars team left hospital for the first public appearance since their daring rescue Wednesday night (AEST), waving, smiling and offering Thai traditional “wai” greetings.
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.
“When they came out of the water, I was surprised. I didn’t know what to [say] to them. I said ‘Hello’, or something like that. When they said ‘hello’ to me, I said ‘hello’ back,” said Adul, who speaks English.
“It was magical,” he said. “I had to think a lot before I could answer their questions,” he added.
“Everybody was happy, it was the most hopeful moment in 10 days.”
Relatives and friends greeted the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, in the flesh for the first time.
The team were kitted out in T-shirts emblazoned with a red graphic of a wild boar, and kicked footballs gently on an improvises stage for the apearance, broadcast live around Thailand.
“Bringing the Wild Boars Home”, read a banner in Thai welcoming them on the stage, designed to resemble a soccer pitch, complete with goalposts and nets.
Their discovery after motr than 10 days trapped below ground triggered an international 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 orginally 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.”
Their efforts were to no avail, Mr 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 their excursion and had to subsist on water dripping from stalactites.
“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.”
The lack of food left them weak, the boys said.
Chanin Wiboonrungrueng, the youngest of the boys known by his nickname Titan, said he soon started to feel faint and dizzy, and struggled to keep his mind off food.
“We tried not to think of food, like fried rice, because it would make us hungrier,” he said.
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.