If you didn’t know any better, they would just have looked like any other group of young teens playing soccer. But as the 12 Thai boys kicked a ball around ahead of their Wednesday press conference, as if they hadn’t just undergone an unimaginable and terrifying ordeal, and it made their rescue and speedy recovery all the more extraordinary.
The Wild Boars left hospital in perfect health, but, before they could finally go home and have their lives return to some kind of normality, they took one step back into the public spotlight. A carefully managed press conference, where questions were vetted by child psychologists, was held where the boys and their coach and Navy SEAL rescuers relived their two-week ordeal.
After introducing themselves one-by-one, the boys and their coach started revealing more about what happened inside the cave. Describing the moment they saw rising water and realized they had become trapped, one boy said he was scared he would be “scolded” by his mother and another added: “I was really afraid I would not be able to return home.”
After two days of trying and failing to escape, the boys and their coach—who said they brought no food into the cave with them and survived solely on water for days—began to feel weak and tried to conserve energy by staying put. They took shifts to try to dig into the cave wall, but realized it wasn't working and decided it was time to wait to be rescued.
Contrary to reports, the boys said all of them are able to swim—but by the time they realized they were trapped it was too late.
The only boy who speaks English, Adul Sam-on, 14, described the “moment of miracle” when the British divers surfaced from the pitch-black water. He said he was “shocked” to find that the divers were British, but as the only boy who could talk to them, he took control, saying “Hello” and telling them that all 12 of the team and their coach were safe.
Once Abdul explained to the others that they were being rescued, another boy told the press conference his “heart burst” with happiness, finally believing that there was hope of getting out of the cave.
As rescuers worked out how to save the children—after giving them food and medicine and checking the psychological state—they passed the time by playing a checkers game with them. One Navy SEAL who was very good at it was declared “king of the cave” by the boys, and another said the SEALs became “our family, we ate together and slept together.”
None of the boys wanted to leave the cave first when rescuers asked for volunteers, according to the team’s coach. All were considered strong and healthy enough to leave on the first day of the rescue—but “no one rushed to get out of the cave because we were so close to one another.”
Although the press conference was a largely happy occasion, the boys gave their condolences to the Navy SEAL Saman Kunan, who lost his life in the operation. “We felt guilty, because of his death,” said the coach, and some boys read out messages they wrote about him, including “I want to say thank you” and “Thank you from the depth of my heart.”
The boys said they were able to watch the World Cup final on Sunday—although they were unable to attend the match as had been proposed by soccer’s governing body FIFA—and were happy that France won.
Some of them said they dream of becoming professional soccer players, while others said they were now inspired to become Navy SEALs. Others had more philosophical answers, with one saying the experience taught them to value life and another said: “I promise to be a good person, a good citizen.”
They all apologized to their parents for going into the cave.
The people looking after the teens have requested that the media now let the boys’ lives return to normal and allow them to spend an extended period of time alone with their families. Though, as one of the boys joked, they might have to spend the next few weeks catching up with homework.