The 12 boys rescued from deep within a flooded cave in northern Thailand have made victory signs from their hospital beds in a video from the isolation ward where they are recuperating after an 18-day ordeal.
The youngest boy, 11, appeared asleep under a white sheet while others, including their 25-year-old football coach, sat in bed, their faces obscured by green surgical masks.
Nurses chatted with them and the boys responded with the customary Thai sign of respect – hands pressed together while bowing the head.
Chaiwetch Thanapaisal, director of Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital, told a news conference: “Don’t need to worry about their physical health and even more so for their mental health.
“Everyone is strong in mind and heart.”
The four boys and their coach who were brought out Tuesday, the final day of a three-day push, had recovered more quickly than the boys rescued on Sunday and Monday, Mr Chaiwetch said.
Another video released on Facebook by Thailand’s Navy Seals, who were central to the rescue, apparently shows one of the boys being carried through part of the muddy cave on a stretcher covered by an emergency thermal blanket.
The group had entered the sprawling Tham Luang cave to go exploring after soccer practice on June 23, but monsoon rains soon filled the tight passageways, blocking their escape.
They were found by a pair of British divers nearly 10 days later, huddled on a small, dry shelf just above the water, smiling with relief but visibly skinny.
The complex mission for international and Thai divers to guide the boys and coach through the cave’s flooded and tight passageways riveted people worldwide. Highlighting the dangers, a former Thai navy Seal who volunteered to work on the rescue efforts died on Friday while replenishing oxygen canisters that were placed along the escape route.
He lauded the co-operation between Thai and international rescuers.
“The situation went beyond just being a rescue mission and became a symbol of unity among mankind,” he said.
“Everyone worked together without discrimination of race or religion as the ultimate goal was to save the youth football team.”
Each of the boys, aged 11 to 16 and with no diving experience, was guided out by divers though rocky, muddy and water passages that in places were just a crawl space.
Relatively mild weather and a massive effort to pump out water created a window of opportunity. The confidence of the diving team, and expertise specific to the cave, grew after its first successful mission Sunday.
Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, a public health inspector, said earlier on Tuesday that the boys lost an average of 4.4lbs while they were trapped. Before their discovery, they survived by drinking water dripping into their cramped refuge.
He said: “To not receive food, we can still survive for many months, but what’s necessary is water, which the cave has, and around this time there’s a lot in the cave, and they chose clean water to drink.”