Thai cave boys wave and smile in first public appearance after rescue

CHIANG RAI, THAILAND: The 12 boys and their football coach rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand waved, smiled and offered traditional “wai” greetings in their first public appearance on Wednesday at a national broadcast in the northern province of Chiang Rai.One of the boys who was rescued from the flooded cave last week described the moment of being found as a “miracle”.
“It is a miracle,” Adul Sam-on, 14, told a press conference as the 12 members of the football team and their coach appeared in public.
“We tried to dig out as we thought we cannot only wait for authorities to get us,” coach Ekkapol Chantawong said during the press conference.
One of the team members said they “drank water that fell from the rocks” before being found by two British divers.
Doctors, relatives and friends, some in yellow traditional garb, greeted the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, who wore T-shirts emblazoned with a red graphic of a wild boar and carried in footballs they kicked gently on the set.
“Bringing the Wild Boars Home,” read a banner in Thai on the set, designed to resemble a football field, complete with goalposts and nets, where the boys arrayed themselves on a dais, beside five members of the rescue team.
A crowd of media and onlookers was penned behind barricades as the group arrived in vans from the hospital where it has stayed since last week’s international effort to extricate it from a flooded cave complex where it had been trapped.The boys, who sported crisp haircuts, had gained an average of 3 kg (6.6 lb) each since the rescue, and rain through confidence-building exercises ahead of Wednesday’s event, the hospital director said.“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 after the discharge, for fear that media attention could affect 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.
The group had planned to explore the Tham Luang cave complex for about an hour after football practice on June 23. But a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.
Two British divers found them on July 2, squatting on a mound in a chamber several kilometres inside the complex. All were brought to safety during the three-day rescue, organised by Thai navy SEALs and a global team of cave-diving experts.