By TASSANEE VEJPONGSA and KAWEEWIT KAEWJINDA
CHIANG RAI, Thailand (AP) — The 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from a cave in northern Thailand left the hospital where they had been recuperating and appeared at a news conference on July 18, saying the ordeal made them stronger and taught them not to live carelessly.
The group, looking healthy, entered the news conference to applause from reporters and classmates and put on a quick demonstration of their ball-handling skills on a miniature soccer field set up in the hall where they met journalists from around the world.
They then hugged their friends before taking seats up front with doctors and members of the Thai navy SEAL unit who dived to help bring them out, along with others who helped them during their ordeal, which ended after more than two weeks when they were rescued.
The boys, whose ages range from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach answered questions submitted by the media, including about the lessons they learned during their experience.
“I feel stronger, I have more patience, endurance, tolerance,’’ said 13-year-old Mongkol Boonpiam.
Adul Samon, 14, said, “This experience teaches me not to live life carelessly.’’
Several said they want to become professional soccer players, while four said they wanted to emulate the heroes who saved them.
“I want to be a navy SEAL because I want to help others,’’ said one.
All said they want to apologize to their parents, most of whom they had not informed in advance about the trek to the cave after soccer practice.
“I know my mom is going to punish me and I am in big trouble with my mother,’’ one of the boys said when asked what he expected to happen when he got home.
Doctors said the 13 were healthy in body and mind. They said the boys gained around 6.6 pounds on average since they were rescued from the cave. They were said to have lost an average of 9 pounds during the more than two weeks they were trapped in the cave.
The news conference was the first opportunity the members of the team had to speak directly to the media, though video of them was released previously. Officials reviewed questions in advance to make certain none might cause damaging psychological effects.
They were asked about the moment when two British cave divers first found them and also the circumstances of how they entered the cave and got trapped there.
The Wild Boars teammates had entered the Tham Luang cave on June 23 for what was to be a quick, relaxing excursion after soccer practice. But rain began falling while they were underground, and water filled the caverns, cutting off their escape.
The British divers found the group huddling on a spot of dry ground deep inside the cave nearly 10 days later, hungry but generally healthy. An international team of rescuers using diving equipment and pulleys extracted the 12 boys and their coach through the tight, flooded passageways over three days, concluding July 10.
Some of the boys were treated for minor infections during their hospital stay, but all 13 have been described as recovering well.
The family of one of the boys was preparing their home for his return.
Banphot Konkum, an uncle who has raised 13-year-old Duangpetch Promthep, said he’ll have a renovated bedroom and gifts awaiting him.
“We’ll do whatever he wants. If he wants anything we’ll buy it for him as a present as we promised that when he gets out, whatever he wants we’ll do it for him,’’ Banphot said.