Thai cave boys pray for fortune at temple

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The Thai youth football team and their coach enjoyed their first day back home with their families since they were rescued from a flooded cave with a trip to a Buddhist temple.

Eleven of the boys and their coach sat and pressed their hands together to pray for protection from misfortune to the tune of chanting monks.

They were joined by relatives and friends at the Wat Pra That Doi Wao temple, overlooking Burma on Thailand’s northern border.

Ekkapol Janthawong and members of his team
Ekkapol Janthawong and members of his team (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

The team has already said they would ordain as Buddhist novices to honour a former Thai navy Seal diver who died in the cave while making preparations for their rescue.

On Wednesday evening, the boys and coach faced the media for the first time since their ordeal, describing their surprise at seeing two British divers rising from muddy waters in the recesses of the cave.

It would be another week before they were pulled out of the Tham Luang cave.

“We weren’t sure if it was for real,” 14-year-old Adul said. “So we stopped and listened. And it turned out to be true. I was shocked.”

In one poignant and emotional moment at the news conference, a portrait was displayed of Saman Gunan, the Thai diver who died.

The boys pay their respects to Saman Gunan
The boys pay their respects to Saman Gunan (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

“I feel sad. And another thing is I’m really impressed with Sergeant Sam for sacrificing his life for all 13 Wild Boars to be able to live our lives outside happily and normally,” he said.

“When we found out, everyone was sad. Extremely sad, like we were the cause of this that made the sergeant’s family sad and having to face problems.”

The Wild Boars had entered the cave on June 23 for what was to be a relaxing excursion after soccer practice.

But rain began, and water soon filled the cavern, cutting off their escape, and they huddled on a patch of dry ground deep inside the cave.

Rescuers with a boy inside Tham Luang Nang Non cave
Rescuers with a boy inside Tham Luang Nang Non cave (Thai Navy/AP)

When the hour was up, they were pretty deep inside and already had swum through some flooded areas in the spirit of adventure.

But in turning back, he discovered the way was not at all clear, and he swam ahead to scout the route, attaching a rope to himself so the boys could pull him back if necessary.

He said he had to be pulled out.

Mr Ekapol said he told the boys: “We cannot go out this way. We have to find another way.”

The boys told reporters of their reactions at that point.

“I felt scared. I was afraid I wouldn’t get to go home and my mom would scold me, said Mongkol Boonpiam, 13, prompting laughter.

Ekarat Wongsukchan, 14, said they decided “to calm ourselves first, to try to fix the problem and find a way out. Be calm and not shocked”.

The group had taken no food with them and survived by drinking water that dripped from the cave walls, Ekapol said, adding that all the boys knew how to swim, which had been a concern for rescuers.

Titan said he tried hard not to think about food. “When I’m starving, I don’t think of food otherwise it’d make me more hungry.”

Adul said they were digging around the spot when they heard the voices and the coach called for silence.

He recounted how Mr Ekapol told them to “‘quickly get down there, that’s the sound of a person, or else they’re going to pass on by,’ something like that.”

But he said his teammate holding the flashlight was scared, so Adul told him “If you’re not going to go, then I’ll go.”

“So I quickly took the flashlight, and quickly went down, and I greeted them, ‘hello,’” Adul added.

Team members in hospital
Team members in hospital (Ministry of Health/Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital/AP)

The dangers of the complicated operation, in which the boys were extracted in three separate missions with diving equipment and pulleys through the tight passageways, were not discussed.

Doctors said the 13 were physically and mentally healthy. Although they lost an average of four kilograms during the more than two weeks they were trapped in the cave, they have since gained about three kilograms on average since their rescue. They were treated for minor infections.

Asked what he had learned from their experience, 13-year-old Mongkol Boonpiam said he felt stronger. “I have more patience, endurance, tolerance,” he said.

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