Thai youth soccer players rescued from cave meet the media



"It was magical", he said.

Asked about their future aspirations, most of the boys said they wanted to be professional footballers when they grow up, while a handful said they want to be Navy SEALs.

Officials say the boys, whose ages range from 11 to 16, and their coach are all in good mental and physical health, but doctors remain anxious about any long-term psychological trauma from their two-week long confinement.

The boys looked to be in good health as they approached the news conference, smiling as they walked and wearing matching green and white jerseys bearing a wild boar.

"Bringing the Wild Boars Home", read a banner in Thai that greeted the soccer team on the set, created to resemble a soccer field, complete with goalposts and nets, where the boys sat on a dais, beside five members of the rescue team.

Members of the rescued soccer team attend a press conference discussing their experience being trapped in the cave in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

A team of expert global divers carried out a long-drawn rescue operation for several days and managed to save the entire trapped party.

Coach Ekkapol Chantawong has been credited with keeping the boys alive.

"At the time we were not scared, because we thought the water would go down and someone would rescue us", he said.

The group had planned to explore the Tham Luang cave complex for about an hour after football practice on June 23.

They explored the underground tunnels for about an hour, before deciding to turn back.

"We weren't sure if it was for real", Adul said.

"We found that there was water coming down and down from the rocks", said Ekapol.

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 Wednesday, looking healthy as they answered questions from journalists from around the world.

Ake added that contrary to some reports, all of the boys can swim, although some "aren't strong swimmers".

"We arrange it so that, after that, the boys can go back to their regular lives", Sansern said. "On the first day we were OK, but after two days we started feeling exhausted". The team's youngest member, Titan, added, "I had no strength".

Despite the hunger, Chanin Vibulrungruang, 11, said he tried not to think of food, filling his stomach with the water trickling down the cave wall.

One boy was anxious about his parents.

He said, "The ones whose homes are the furthest went first, so they could tell everyone that the boys were fine".

The boys, who sported crisp haircuts, had gained 3 kg (6.6 lb) each on average since the rescue, and ran through confidence-building exercises ahead of Wednesday's event, the hospital director said. The boys, fitted with thick wetsuits and full-face scuba masks, were guided through dark, flooded passageways towards the mouth of the cave. Approved questions will be put to the boys by a moderator.

The rescue effort drew global media attention and hundreds of journalists. I asked if they wanted any help. "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".

The coach, whose nickname is Ake, said it was not unusual for the group to participate in group activities after soccer practice on Saturday afternoons.

Hugs and tears greeted numerous boys when they made their way home.

The scene was repeated across other homes.

"I pass the hospital where the children are staying every day and I say a prayer to thank Lord Buddha for their return", said Duang, a noodle vendor, who asked to be identified only by her first name.

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