One-hour trip that ended in a saga gripping the world

The 12 Wild Boars footballers and their coach originally intended to spend just an hour exploring the Tham Luang cave on June 23 and to leave the cave before 5 pm, but unfortunately they ended up with being trapped in there for 18 days. And they believe that their eventual escape from the cave was nothing short of a miracle.

Speaking at the first press conference at the Chiang Rai provincial administration office after being discharged from Chiang Rai hospital, they credited the leadership of their 25-year coach Aekaphol Chanthawong or Aek with helping them go through what was their most harrowing experience.

It was the first time that the members of the Wild Boars soccer team openly talked about the ordeal that gripped the whole world for almost three weeks before they were all safely rescued from the dark and flooded cave. In the presence of their families and medical staff and some of the Navy SEAL members who played an instrumental role in their rescue, the young survivors gave vivid accounts on why they went into the cave, how they got trapped by sudden flooding and the crucial role played by coach Aek in keeping alive their spirit and hope despite the odds against them.

They also recounted how they managed to go without foods for 10 days by drinking only water dripping from the cave walls while sheltering on a dry ledge at the spot known as Nern Nomsao before they were discovered by a team of British divers.

Coach Aek said he planned the cave trip with members of the team after a football training session. He said they didn’t bring any foods because they intended to be there briefly and left before 5 pm and that they had to bring one of the boys, Taitan, to an evening class. He denied earlier press reports that they went inside the cave to celebrate the birthday of one of the boys.

The coach said he had ventured up to the so-called T junction in the cave before and it was then flooded as it was when they arrived at the same spot on June 23.

He was the one who tried to swim out of the flooded tunnel through which they went, but had to give up because the tunnel was fully flooded.

The boys said they tried to find alternative routes deeper inside the cave to get out, but finally gave up the idea, fearing that it might lead them to more desperate situation. Finally, they decided to shelter at Nern Nomsao ledge which is about 400 metres from the so-called Pattaya Beach and waited for rescue.

But instead of just waiting idly, they took turns to using stones to punch hole in the cave wall and managed to dig as deep as 4 metres at one spot. The boys said they would fill their stomachs with water before climbing up the ledge to continue smashing the cave wall.

It was the boys and their coach who decided which of them would be extracted first, not the SEALs nor the rescue command centre. How they decided who to go first also shows how ignorant they were about what was going on outside the cave. “We decided that the ones whose houses are far away from the cave should leave first. They should go home on the bikes as quickly as possible to tell their families what happened and to get help,” said Aek.

It’s no surprise that after the high-profile rescue operation that captivated the world, many of the young survivors said that they would study hard and try to join the Navy SEAL.

The boys said though they never gave up hope of seeing the light of the day again, their considered their rescue to be nothing short of a miracle.