NEWS
18/07/2018 12:18 BST | Updated 18/07/2018 17:16 BST

Thailand Cave Rescue: 12 Boys And Coach Leave Hospital And Make First Public Appearance

They were freed last week after 18-day ordeal.

One of the 12 boys rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand said their “hearts burst” when divers first reached them.

Another described it as a “moment of miracle” and said they had been “shocked” to discover the first divers to find them were British. 

The boys and their football coach told stories of the ordeal during their first public appearance at a nationally-broadcast news conference.

The youngsters, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have been in hospital in the northern city of Chiang Rai, following a successful international effort to rescue them last week after they became trapped in the flooded Tham Luang cave complex.

They were discharged from hospital on Wednesday afternoon ahead of the news conference, which officials said would be their only media interview.

Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters

Speaking of the moment he came face-to-face with the first rescue diver, one of the boys said: “It’s just a miracle that happened. I was frightened. I said ‘can I help you?’” 

Another said that they had all been very excited when the divers first reached them.

“It was the time when our hearts burst. We were so happy. We could say to ourselves that there is hope now,” he told the conference.

Asked about what they were doing in the cave. They said they were only supposed to be in there for one hour. On the way back out, they saw the water.

The coach clarified that they could all swim, contrary to reports. When they realised they couldn’t swim out, they found somewhere to sleep and thought the water would go down in the morning. 

One of the boys said he was afraid he would be “scolded” by his mother after realising they were trapped.

“I was afraid I wouldn’t go home,” he said.

Coach Ake confirmed they had no food as they had eaten at the football ground before visiting the cave, but were able to drink rain water from the walls of the cave.

Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters

They paid a moving tribute to Thai Navy Seal Saman Kunan, who died during the rescue effort while installing oxygen tanks along the passageways of the exit route.

Everyone was shocked when they heard of Kunan’s death, coach Ake said.

“We felt guilty, because of his death,” he added.

A picture of Kunan with messages written by the boys was held up, which will be given to Kunan’s family.

Some boys read out the messages they wrote around Kunan’s picture.

“I want to say thank you”, one boy read. “Thank you from the depth of my heart” another said.

The boys entered the press conference, dressed in their football kits, and had a kick-about in front of the gathered media before sitting down for the press conference. A video was also shown of them thanking hospital staff.

In the video, one boy said: “Everyone was worried about us and I’m speechless.”

They then hugged their friends before taking seats up front with doctors and members of the Thai navy Seal unit who dived to help bring them out, along with others who helped them during their ordeal.

During the conference, a reporter asked if they watched the World Cup final on Sunday. The boys said they did and that they enjoyed watching it live, with most supporting France. 

They were asked what they dreamt of doing in the future and most said they wanted to be both professional football players and Navy SEALs. 

Ake also confirmed reports that the boys want to ordain as Buddhist monks for a short period of time to honour Kunan. In Thailand, it’s traditional for men to become a Buddhist monk at least once in their life.

Doctors told the gathered media that the boys were healthy and “ready to face normal life”. 

The lengthy press conference was broadcast live on national TV and around the world.

Earlier, a government spokesperson said doctors, social workers and psychologists would be at the news conference to filter questions and ensure the boys’ wellbeing.

Ministry of Health/Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital/AP
The boys recovering in hospital.

“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, citing worries over the impact of media attention on 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.

Vincent Thian/AP
A mini football pitch had been set up at the press conference.

Thailand’s chief government spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd told news agency AFP: “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.”

Chiang Rai’s provincial governor Prachon Pratsukan added that it would be their “only official media interview”, saying that there would “be no more speaking with the press after this”.