The entire Thai soccer team who were trapped within a flooded cave network for two weeks have spoken for the first time since being rescued from a flooded cave in Northern Thailand. Press questions have been carefully scrutinized and monitored by psychologists before being asked to ensure that the boys do not undergo any further trauma.
“Their mental state is quite good. They should be able to handle any stress when returning home. They are also physically strong. There is nothing to worry about,” said one of the doctor’s present at the press conference Wednesday.
The three Navy SEAL’s who stayed back with the boys in the cave were also introduced, though their identity remains protected.
“I am the prettiest gentleman that was in the cave,” said one of the unidentified SEALs, which was met with laughter from the assembled journalists.
The press conference host then asked one of the boys what it was like when the British diver emerged from the water and discovered the team huddled on a rock deep within the underwater caves.
The boy talked of his shock when he heard someone speaking in the dark. “We waited and listened because we couldn’t believe that there was someone there,” he explained, adding that the rescuer appeared from the depths and said “Hello.”
The boy continued, saying that he “was quite surprised because it turns out that the rescuer was not Thai.”
“We said “Hello” to each other.””
“This was a miracle moment,” the boy added.
So, why did the boys go in the cave in the first place?
“Everyone agreed we will go to Thaum Luang. I had never been to the cave before, but others had. We experienced some water as we came into the cave. But we discussed whether or not to stay or go further into the cave, and it was said that we had one hour,” explained the 25-year-old coach, Ekkapol Ake Chantawong,
“On the way back we realized we couldn’t get out,” he continued. “We got trapped.”
“It was not anyone’s birthday,” the coach added, responding to speculation that the cave trip was done in celebration of a team member’s birthday.
The coach also clarified: “We all can swim,” correcting early reports that many of the team members did not possess this skill. He noted that when the group realized that the water levels were rising, they decided to find some high ground and stay the night.
“Before we went to sleep, we prayed. I was not worried or scared at that time. I believed that tomorrow the water would lower.”
So how did they survive, and what did they do as they awaited rescue?
“I went every day with the team to find a way out,” one of the boy explained. “I also looked to find water sources that were flowing down from higher up in the cave,” another added.
“We just drank water,” the boy noted, adding that they did not have any food. He recalled that they were OK for a day or two, but then began to feel weak due to lack of food. The coach advised the boys to stay very still to conserve vital energy.
“I felt very weak and hungry,” said the youngest and smallest member of the team. “I made sure not to think about food – I didn’t think about fried rice!”
Another member of the group said he would spend his free time attempting to dig a tunnel to freedom. “I could dig two or three meters deep,” he said. Another team member confirmed this, saying that as the water was visibly rising, the group felt they were doing something productive by digging into the cave wall with sharp rocks.
The boys also took a moment to honor the ex-Navy SEAL who lost his life during the rescue operation.
“We are sorry about the loss of Lieutenant Commander Saman Kunan,” the coach explained. “He was really sacrificial in his rescue of all of us. We were all shocked. We couldn’t believe what had happened. Everyone was saddened by the news and felt guilty that we were the cause of his death.”
The boys also talked about being sent an image of the heroic rescue diver and explained how they penned various messages of condolence to his family while confined in the hospital together.
“We decided to write some messages to the Commander. And we will send this to his family.”
One message reads “I would like to express our condolences. May you rest in peace. Thank you very much for your sacrifice.”
“We have to be more careful and check everything more carefully about whether different activities should be done or not,” the coach explained. The coach, along with most of the team, said they would love to be both professional soccer players and Navy SEAL’s in the future.
“I want to be a Navy SEAL because I want to help others,” one of the players added.
Every member of the team said they wished to apologize to their parents for not informing them that they were headed to the caves on that fateful day. Most of the players said they told their parents they were going to soccer practice.
“I’m in big trouble with my mother,” one of them noted.
“The reason to hold this evening press conference is so media can ask them questions and after that they can go back to live their normal lives without media bothering them,” chief government spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said prior to the conference, according to the BBC.
— ThaiPBS News (@ThaiPBSNews) July 18, 2018
The team have been quarantined in the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital since they were freed by an international team of rescuers on July 10. Several of the youngsters were treated for lung infections and minor injuries. But aside from some mild illness, the boys remained miraculously unharmed after coming through a perilous rescue operation that involved them diving through narrow underwater tunnels.
“They are likely to return home immediately after the press conference,” he added.
Chiang Rai’s provincial governor Prachon Pratsukan noted that it would be the team’s “only official media interview”, adding that there would “be no more speaking with the press after this.” According to the Guardian, a number of journalists have submitted questions which have been carefully vetted by psychologists – only approved questions will be put to the boys during the media appearance.
Mental health experts have advised the boys to avoid journalists for at least a month after returning home, highlighting the risk of drudging up traumatic memories of their terrifying experience.