Thai cave survivors speak to media for first time since rescue

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Twelve Thai boys and their football coach, rescued from a flooded cave after being trapped, attend a press conference in Chiang Rai on July 18, 2018, following their discharge from the hospital. (AFP PHOTO / LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA)

The public is finally hearing from the 13 rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand. The boys and their coach described the drama of their ordeal, all while sitting alongside their rescuers.

CGTN’s Martin Lowe filed this report from Chiang Rai.

Follow Martin Lowe on Twitter @MartinLoweTV

It was the moment well-wishers around the world had been waiting for. Thailand’s rescued soccer boys, out from the flooded cave and out of the hospital, were finally heading home.

However, they first shared a few words about their ordeal to those everywhere who watched the dramatic rescue unfold. They expressed their gratitude to the international team that worked for 18 days to save them. They also shared their sadness over the loss of one man in the operation: former Thai Navy Seal Samarn Kunan.

Coach Ekkapol Janthawong, left, and the 12 boys show their respect and thanks as they hold a portrait of Saman Gunan, the retired Thai SEAL diver who died during their rescue attempt, during a press conference in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

“We feel really sorry, he was very brave. When we heard he had died, everyone was shocked. We couldn’t believe it had happened, everybody was sad,” Team Coach Ekapol Chantawong said. 

It’s been revealed just how difficult it was to bring the boys out of the Tham Luang cave complex. They had to get through four kilometers of dark, tight and twisting, tunnels, flooded by monsoon rain.

One rescuer said they feared it couldn’t be achieved without loss of life. They believed as many as four or five of the 12 boys might die. The Thai government had granted immunity from prosecution if that happened, so the team could freely go ahead with the attempt.

Rescued soccer player “Titan” Chanin Vibulrungruang reacts after paying respect to a portrait of Saman Gunan, the Thai Navy SEAL diver who died in the rescue attempt, during a press conference discussing their ordeal in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

The boys and their coach were first sedated to keep them calm, then given an oxygen supply. They were pulled, pushed and coaxed through tiny flooded chambers, each by two skilled divers. It was a nightmarish journey that took four to six hours for each survivor.

“While we were waiting, we kept looking for a way out and looking for water to drink. We drank water that was dripping down the cave walls,” the rescued Pornchai Kamluang said.

Almost a month after their ordeal began, the boys can now finally go back to their homes and families. It was a rescue that captured the world’s attention and succeeded against all the odds.

Some of the boys from the Wild Boars soccer team have had treatment for pneumonia in hospital, but all are in overall good health. Their fame is likely to grow, with plans advancing for Hollywood to turn the rescue into a movie.

Some of the twelve Thai boys, rescued from a flooded cave after being trapped, arrive to attend a press conference in Chiang Rai on July 18, 2018, following their discharge from the hospital on July 18. (AFP PHOTO / Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)