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‘It was so magnificent’: Thai soccer team recall the moment they were discovered

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The 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from a flooded Thai cave have told of their surprise the moment a diver emerged from the waters trapping them.

Key points:

  • Coach Ekkapol Chantawong explained the trip into the cave was only meant to be a brief exploration
  • The boys considered trekking further into the cave to find another way out
  • Water dripping from the cave's ceiling and formations helped them stay hydrated

The Wild Boars were released from hospital on Wednesday to make their first public appearance at a wide-ranging press conference in the northern province of Chiang Rai.

"When they came out of the water, I was surprised. I didn't know what to [say] to them. I said 'Hello', or something like that. When they said 'hello' to me, I said 'hello' back," one of the boys, Adun Samon, told the packed gathering.

"It was so magnificent."

The boys and their coach recalled their experience inside the cave in great detail.

Hearty applause met each of the boys as they stood one by one, starting with the coach, to introduce themselves by name and nickname, and their position on the field.

Samon described the moment they realised they had been found.

"In the evening, we were sitting around and we heard someone … And I asked our team members to quiet down, because I heard some conversation," he said.

"I started to listen and it became reality."

External Link: ABC News Facebook: Thai cave rescue press conference

Worried that the rescuers wouldn't be able to locate them, one of the boys moved closer to where the sound was coming from, Samon said.

"Someone was raising their head above the water and said, 'hello'. I went in there and the noise [replied], 'hello, is anyone there?'

That discovery triggered the rescue effort that brought to safety via a three day diving mission, organised by Thai Navy SEALs and a global team of cave-diving experts.

Relatives of Duangpetch Promthep greet him as he arrives home in the Mae Sai district.

'Within one hour we have to come back'

Coach Ekkapol "Ek" Chantawong explained why the boys went into the cave.

"This trip we intended it to be a study, to familiarise the trip so, that the next time we can have a proper trip to Tham Luang," he said.

"We have been to the area before but not all the members of this were in our first trip.

Twelve Wild Boars soccer players and their coach play soccer.

"We went in there and saw a couple of pools of water.

"This time we went further than [the pools of water]. I said, 'do we want to go? Within one hour we have to come back, we have to come out before 5:00pm, because someone has to get home'.

"[A Wild Boars member named] Night was saying 'today is my [birthday] … I have to be home because my [mother is] arranging a party for me, if you guys want to join me, we can all go to my house on the bicycle'."

Coach Ekkapol Chantawong introduces himself during the press conference.

Inside the cave, they discussed whether or not to explore further, eventually deciding to push on.

The coach said the strongest swimmer kept checking the level of the water.

"When you are in there, the level of the water rose. So he was checking the depth of the water all the time, and he was saying that the water is not deep at all.

"And gradually we followed him in order to see … whether we can go further.

Wild Boars soccer players and their coach arrive for their news conference.

"I realised that we had to swim further. I looked at my watch and I realised it was one hour after the expected time, so I asked whether we should go home, so, we decided to return home."

The team did not believe they were lost, at first.

A look inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave

They tried to track back the way they came, but saw more water than they expected.

Mr Ekkapol investigated personally, and soon realised the path ahead would not be their way out.

The interviewer asked the team how they felt once they realised they were lost, and one replied: "There's no way we can go home now, my mum will surely reprimand me!"

But they were determined to escape.

Straightaway the team tried to dig a passageway to help drain some of the water blocking the way out.

When that failed, they looked for a place to rest near the water, in the hopes it would recede overnight and help would find them, the team coach said.

But aid did not come so soon.

Spotlight shines on a group of boys wrapped in silver thermal blankets and a navy diver wearing black

How they decided who came out first

The team stayed hydrated by drinking water dripping from the stalactites in the cave, but the lack of food left them weak, the boys said.

"I felt dizzy, due to my hunger," the youngest one said.

"I stopped thinking about food because it would make me even hungrier."

They considered trying to reach the other end of the cave, thinking there must be another way out.

"My opinion was, if we are not able to [find] that way out, then we will die in the middle," one boy said.

"So, we came back … first to go this way and the second is to wait there and let other people come to discover us."

A relative of the boys wipes his eyes as he watches the press conference

The order in which the boys eventually left the cave did not depend on the state of their health, said their coach Mr Ekkapol, whose efforts have been credited by some parents with keeping the boys alive.

"I talked … with Dr Harris. Everyone was strong. No-one was sick. Everybody had a strong mental state. Dr Harris said … there's no preference," he said.

"We were thinking, when we get out of the cave, we would have to ride the bicycle home, so the persons who live the furthest away would be allowed to go out first … so that they can go out and tell everyone that we were inside, we were okay."

The soccer players and their coach cave arrive for their news conference.

The Wild Boars' health

Earlier, an interviewer spoke to members of the medical team that treated the boys.

"They are very strong inside," a doctor said.

"Blood samples have been tested, physical examination has been done and just now we were able to witness the strength — both physical strength, as well as the mental strength of the team members of Wild Boars team."

A female doctor taking care of the boys' mental health said she had spoken with each of them in depth.

"Using psychological principles, as well as the treatment program that we conducted, we found that each of the team members was very well-adjusted, well-adjusted socially," she said.

Thai boys pay respect to Navy SEAL

"We are able to conclude that they are very physically fit as well as mentally appropriate."

However, the medical team said the boys were welcome to return for a visit or for more help in future.

"If they miss us, we would welcome them to come back and see us," they said.

Pak Laharachun and the boys give a thumbs up as they pose for a photo

The rescue effort drew global media attention and hundreds of journalists, many of whom left after it wrapped up, but excitement picked up again in the usually sleepy town of Chiang Rai ahead of the boys' much-anticipated appearance.

A mock soccer field was set up at the media conference where the boys kicked a ball around before they spoke.

They addressed the crowd wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a wild boar.

A cartoon of the group with its rescuers, captioned, "Our Heroes", was displayed on a welcome screen at the airport.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn has allowed a party to be held in the Royal Plaza, a public square in Bangkok's old town, to thank the Thai and foreign participants in the rescue, the Government said.

Earlier, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters the celebration would feature a banquet and entertainment, but gave no further details.

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