Twelve Thai boys and their football coach have been discharged from hospital, a week after a daring rescue operation saw them extracted from a cave where they had been stuck for more than two weeks.
Dressed in football fatigues and looking healthy, the “Wild Boars” football team spoke of their “miracle” rescue at a news conference on Wednesday, their first public appearance since getting trapped.
The survivors said they had no food, with one team member saying they “drank water that fell from the rocks” until rescuers discovered them.
“We tried to dig out as we thought we cannot only wait for authorities to get us,” coach Ekkapol Chantawong told reporters in Chiang Rai, a city in northern Thailand.
The children and their coach got stuck inside the 10km-long Tham Luang cave complex in the north of the country on June 23, after floods caused by heavy rainfall blocked the entrance.
Nine days later, the boys – aged 11 to 17 – and their 25-year-old coach were found dishevelled and emaciated but alive on a muddy ledge about four kilometres inside the complex cave.
“I had no strength. I tried not to think about food so I didn’t get hungry,” the youngest team member Titan said.
The boys have on average gained three kilogrammes since their rescue, the hospital director said.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, the father of the team’s 14-year-old goalkeeper said he wants his son’s life to return to normal as soon as possible.
“We can’t see in the future, but I will tell my boy that when he returns to the normal world, he may face things he has never experienced before,” said Adisak Wongsukchan, adding that he was “worried”.
“I try to encourage him and make sure he’ll be ready to face this. He should only speak about what he wants to say, things that hurt him he should avoid.”
In recent days, divers have shed light on the high risk involved in getting the boys and their coach out of the cave during a three-day operation that started on July 8.
“I was confident of getting the kid out, I wasn’t 100 percent confident of getting him out alive,” British diver Jason Mallinson told Australian TV programme Four Corners on Monday.
“I’ve never done anything as risky as that and I don’t think I ever will again. But it was the only option we had, and we took it.”
US Mission Commander Major Charles Hodges added: “The probability of success was about as low as you can get.
“I was fully expecting that we would accept casualties. Maybe three, four, possibly five would die.”
The danger involved in the three-day operation was underlined by the death of 38-year-old former Navy SEAL diver Saman Kunan, who passed out while placing oxygen canisters along the route divers had to take to get the children out.
At Wednesday’s press conference, the boys presented a picture of Kunan with notes they had written thanking the diver for helping in their rescue.
“Everyone was very sad,” Ekkapol said of the death. “They felt like they were the reason he had to die and his family had to suffer.”
Meanwhile, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk issued an apology to British cave diver Vernon Unsworth who he had called “pedo guy” in an argument over a mini-submarine the billionaire had sent to help with the rescue mission.
Unsworth had called Musk’s move a “PR stunt” and said its rigidity meant it “wouldn’t have made the first 50 metres of the cave”.
He added Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts”.
In a tweet that has since been deleted, Musk responded by saying he would make one of the mini-submarines go deep into the cave and called Unsworth a paedophile.
As this well-written article suggests, my words were spoken in anger after Mr. Unsworth said several untruths & suggested I engage in a sexual act with the mini-sub, which had been built as an act of kindness & according to specifications from the dive team leader.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 18, 2018
On Tuesday evening, Musk tweeted he had “spoken in anger”.
“Nonetheless, his actions against me do not justify my actions against him,” he added.