The 12 soccer boys who were rescued from a flooded Thai cave have revealed how they survived underground, trying to dig their way out, licking water from the walls and the “magnificent” moment they were discovered by British divers.
In an extraordinary media conference last night, after their release from hospital, the young soccer team all spoke, laughing and joking as they recalled the lighter moments of their miraculous* survival and rescue.
Wearing their full soccer uniform, the 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their coach, were joined by the four Thai Navy SEALs who stayed inside the flooded cave with them for nine days and by the medical staff who have cared for them in hospital since their rescue 10 days ago.
The love and respect and camaraderie* between the Navy SEALs and the boys was noticeable, especially as the boys delivered an emotional tribute* to a fifth SEAL who died during the rescue operation. Many said they would like to be navy SEALS themselves now.
The boys arrived at the media conference with fresh haircuts and looking happy and healthy, despite their horrific ordeal*.
The group smiled, waved and offered traditional “wai” greetings before describing their relief when they were found by two British divers.
The media conference started with each boy standing and introducing himself and coach Ekkapon Chantawongse answered many of the questions, explaining how the boys became lost in the cave system and how they survived.
He revealed how, on the first night they were stuck in the cave, the group was not too afraid.
“’Let’s pray to God before we go to bed,’ I told everyone. At that time we were not afraid, no”, the coach said.
“I thought the next day the water would recede* and someone would come and find us.”
The team told how they went to the cave after soccer training to explore and planned to spend only an hour inside but when they tried to get out, at a junction, the water had risen. They tried to swim a section, to see how deep it was, at one stage.
The coach and one team member then held a piece of string between them as the coach tried to find his way out while the others stayed were they were.
“If I pull the string twice it means I am able to get out of this cave,” he told the other team member.
He couldn’t get out and the boys were stuck. But the coach said they never stopped trying to find a way out. “We were determined to find a way out.”
He told how he had urged the team not to give up. “I told everyone to have a good spirit, don’t give up.”
At first, the boys said they were not hungry but as the days wore on with no food, they became weak. They had eaten all their snacks before coming into the cave. The youngest boy, just 11, said he felt dizzy and weak, thinking about fried rice and dipping sauce. “I stopped thinking about food because it would make me even hungrier.”
The boys licked water from the stalactites in the cave. One boy said that before taking his shift of digging a hole in a bid to escape he would drink enough water to fill his stomach up before beginning work.
The boys also told of the amazing moment when they were found, huddled on a ledge, by two British divers.
“We were sitting around and we heard someone in a conversation and I asked our team members to quiet down because I heard some conversation,” said Adul Sam-on, the only team member to speak English and who was able to communicate with the divers. He then got a torch and went to the water’s edge. “I said hello, I heard hello, someone was raising their hand above the water … it was so magnificent. I didn’t know what questions to ask. It took me a while to answer them when they asked me how I was … they asked me how many days have you been in here and I answered him. I said 10 days. At that time my brain wasn’t working, in my brain there was no maths, no arithmetic, no English.”
One boy told, laughing, how one Navy SEAL had spent a lot of time in the cave wearing only his underpants. ‘It was quite unique and funny to us,” the boy said.
And they told that the Navy SEALs are now part of their family, many of the boys saying that they now want to be Navy SEALs when they finish their studies. Others said they wanted to be professional soccer players or Buddhist monks. Becoming a monk at a temple for at least a short time is a way of showing you are a good person in Thai Buddhist tradition.
They paid an emotional tribute to the Thai Navy SEAL, Saman Kunan, who lost his life during the rescue mission.
The boys spent several days in hospital after their rescue. Video and photos of the boys from hospital showed them speaking from their hospital beds. In these images they are wearing face masks to help prevent them from catching a cold or other infection while they are recovering or from spreading any infections they might have caught in the cave.
Parents of the 12 boys, all members of the Wild Boars soccer team, made it clear they had no blame for the boys’ junior coach, Ekkapon “Ake” Chantawongse.
Two Australians who played important roles in the rescue have spoken of their relief at bringing the 13 out alive.
Craig Challen and Richard Harris asked the Wild Boars team members to decide who would be removed each time a group left the cave.
They said each of the boys was given medicine before they were removed so they “didn’t know what was going on”.
“It wasn’t dangerous for us but I can’t emphasise* enough how dangerous it was for the kids,” Mr Challen said.
The narrowest section of the cave — 38cm in width — required divers to attach an oxygen cylinder and mask to each boy before guiding them through on a lead.
“Everybody was just frantically* trying to work out what the best way to go about it was,” he said.
“(Richard and I) developed the plan a little bit, changed some of the equipment and stuff like that but it was really the British divers’ plan — they really deserve the credit* for the extraction* plan.”
Thousands of Australians have called for Dr Harris and Mr Challen to be given the Cross of Valour, the nation’s highest civilian* bravery award.
Thai boys’ soccer team found alive in caves
- miraculous: seems like a miracle
- camaraderie: getting along well
- tribute: show thanks or respect
- ordeal: difficult experience
- recede: go back
- emphasise: make something clearly understood
- frantically: in a hurried or excited way
- credit: recognise or praise someone’s efforts
- extraction: removal
- civilian: not a soldier or police officer
LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY
- Why does the soccer team need to stay in hospital for a few days?
- If the boys are healthy, why are they wearing face masks?
- Do the parents blame the coach for taking the boys into the cave?
- What are some of the things the coach did to help the boys while they were trapped?
- Why would some of the boys consider becoming Buddhist monks?
1. Think, Feel, Wonder
Draw up two Y charts on your page. Label each section of the chart with Think, Feel or Wonder.
Picture yourself as one of the following people:
- a member of the Thai soccer team
- a parent of one of the players
- one of the rescue team
Complete the first chart as how you think this person was thinking, feeling and wondering during the ordeal and then how they were thinking, feeling and wondering after the rescue was complete.
Use the article to help give you clues.
Time: Allow 15 minutes
Curriculum links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking
2. Extension: While this event was very real, it has all the features of a brilliant fictional narrative — adventure, suspense, danger, tragedy and best of all a (mostly) happy ending. Use this as inspiration to write your own narrative story of becoming trapped and escaping against the odds. You could write your story about this event or you could come up with a completely different scenario. You can write it in first person (as if it is happening to you) or in third person (as if it is happening to others).
Use the charts from the previous activity to help you focus on the thoughts and feelings your characters may be having. Ensure you use descriptive language that helps the reader visualise the scene and feel like they are there with the characters.
Time: Allow 40- 60 minutes
Curriculum links: English
With a partner see if you can you identify all the doing words/verbs in this text.
Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.
Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.
QUESTION: What are your ideas about how people could honour Saman Kunan and thank all the rescuers for their efforts?
Explain your answers using full sentences.