The Thai soccer team and their coach described how they drank dripping water off stalactites and vowed to “keep fighting” to survive in a flooded cave that completely cut them off from the world for nine days.
All 12 boys, ranging in age from 11 to 16, and 25-year-old coach Ekkapol Chantawong sat down with ABC News at the temple where the team stayed after their rescue to learn from Buddhist monks.
They recalled how they had set out to explore a cave after soccer practice on June 23. When they tried to leave the cave, they found the entrance was flooded.
“When we went in and got stuck in the cave, at that moment, we saw water. It’s full of water,” Chantawong told ABC News. “I then volunteered to dive to find out if I could go through or not. If I could go through then everybody is saved. So, we used the rope that we brought with us.”
Chantawong said he asked three boys to hold one end of the rope while he tried to figure out if they could exit the cave. Once he realized they were trapped, the boys used the rope to pull him back to them. Chantawong said he tried to remain calm and stay positive so the boys would not panic. Eventually, he turned to prayer and meditation as the hours carried on.
To keep their spirits up, the team and coach drank fresh water dripping from a stalactite and dug into the cave’s walls with rocks. Their mantra was “su su,” which is Thai for “keep fighting.”
On July 2, after two divers discovered the entire team stuck in the cave. One of the boys, Adul, approached the water’s edge to see who they were.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to say. I was happy.”
The team had not been aware that a global search and rescue operation was underway. Over the course of three days, from July 7 to July 10, all 12 boys and the coach were rescued from the cave. Another boy, Titan, said he broke down upon seeing his family for the first time.
“I was very happy to see my mom and dad. I feel warmer,” he said. “I was very happy. I cried.”