The 12 members of the Wild Boars youth soccer team and their coach never stopped thinking of ways to free themselves from the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand during the weeks-long ordeal that captured global attention.
In a Wednesday press conference, the boys — ranging in age from 11 to 16 — revealed that they licked water from the cave’s walls to survive and took turns using rocks to try to dig a tunnel. They had a plan in place. But, little did they know, a slew of rescue teams and ambulances were waiting for them outside.
“We were thinking… we would have to ride our bicycles home,” team’s coach, Ekapol “Aek” Chanthawong said, according to Today, noting that the group decided that the boys who lived the furthest away would leave through their handmade tunnel first.
The group went into the cave on June 23 for an hour-long excursion, but became stuck when heavy rains and rising floodwaters blocked their exit. Police said they believe the team crawled into the cave through a narrow 15-meter long channel. Officials launched a massive search for the group after a park officer found the boys’ backpacks, bicycles and soccer cleats abandoned outside the cave, CNN reported.
The team was initially found on July 2, and authorities grappled with how to safely free them from the cave. By July 10, the players and their coach had been successfully rescued and taken to a local hospital where they received vaccinations. In footage from the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital, the boys appeared to be in good spirits as they sat up in their hospital beds with masks over their faces.
In the wake of the rescue, the boys have been open about their ordeal, detailing the weeks they spent in the dark, wet cave. One boy — who turned 13 in the cave — said the hungry group couldn’t help but talk about food as they struggled to survive.
“The more we talked about it, the hungrier we got,” the teen said, according to Today. “I’m so happy to be at home and sleep in my own bed.”
According to ABC News, Chanthawong said at Wednesday’s press conference that the group made the decision to go deeper into the cave after they found their exit flooded. Still, they never expected to be inside for so long.
“The water went up to my shoulder. So everyone followed me,” he said. “I didn’t worry at that time because I thought the water would lower down overnight and we could get out.”
As the hours passed, the boys became worried. But Chanthawong said he assured them that they weren’t lost. They had no food or water when they entered the cave and, when they weren’t digging through the cave’s walls, they would sit still to save their energy.
“I felt weak and very hungry,” 11-year-old Chanin Vibulrungruang — the youngest of the group, said — according to ABC. “I drank water to make me full.”
Now, as the boys and their coach recover from the incident, they all agree on one thing: they’ll never go into the cave again.
“If someone invites me, I would say no,” Chanthawong said. “I would only join them from in front of the cave as a guide to other people.”