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Thai Boys And Their Soccer Coach Recount Trauma Of Being Trapped In Cave

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In northern Thailand, the Wild Boars are out of the hospital and back home after spending more than 2 1/2 weeks trapped in a cave. It was an ordeal that ended after an extraordinary international effort to free the young soccer team. And today, the boys and their coach met the media before going home. Michael Sullivan was there.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: For the first 15 minutes or so, the Wild Boars seemed stiff, not used to their newfound fame or the battery of television cameras or the hundreds of journalists who'd come to hear their story. The boys introduced themselves one by one but didn't really start loosening up until one of the Thai Navy SEALs who was with them in the cave for more than a week did the same.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PI BAITOEY: (Speaking Thai).

(CHEERING)

SULLIVAN: He says his name is Pi Baitoey and claims he was the prettiest guy in the cave. The crowd cheers, the boys grin and things lightened up in a hurry as the moderator asked them questions screened by psychologists so as to avoid traumatizing the boys. But there was the obvious question for their leader, 25-year-old assistant coach Ekkapon (ph) Chantawong, the one many people have been wondering for weeks now. Why'd they go into the cave in the first place?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EKKAPOL CHANTAWONG: (Speaking Thai).

SULLIVAN: "We went to the cave to study things inside," he said, "because some of the boys had not been there before." He said they'd only planned on staying an hour and didn't realize they'd get stuck. But when they did, they didn't panic, he said, figuring someone would find their bikes and come get them. It took a while, but someone did, rising out of the murky water. It just wasn't who they expected.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADUN SAM-ON: (Speaking Thai).

SULLIVAN: Fourteen-year-old Adun Sam-on said hello, expecting a Thai officer. Instead it was one of two British cave divers. Adun was confused and at first didn't even know what to say. And then he remembered enough English to tell the diver how many they were. Eight days later, all 13 were rescued from the cave.

Almost all of the boys said that the experience had made them both stronger and taught them to be more careful in the future. They expressed deep remorse for not having told their parents they were going and even deeper remorse for the death of the former Thai Navy SEAL who was trying to prepare an exit route for them through the flooded cave. And in the end, hospital psychologist Dr. Patchaneewan Inta had a gentle warning for the boys, their parents and everyone else.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PATCHANEEWAN INTA: (Speaking Thai).

SULLIVAN: "We want the kids to go back to their normal lives as soon as possible," she said. "Back to school, no special treatment and no media bothering them or reminding them of what happened. Let them be kids," she said. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEXANDRE DESPLAT'S "KRISTOFFERSON'S THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.