CHIANG RAI, Thailand — The boys meant to explore the cave for just an hour, a casual jaunt to relax after soccer practice, but the waters rose. The teammates climbed higher, using their hands to feel the walls for a crawl space that would lead to safer, higher ground. Those handprints were among the first signs of where the boys were, what they had done to escape the floods, and what dangers rescuers would face in their mission to save the boys and their coach.
The boys now recuperating and the rescuers who brought them to safety are starting to share stories of the dangers and their survival. The hospital in northern Thailand where the 12 boys and their soccer coach are quarantined said Friday they are basically healthy, aside from some minor infections. A psychiatrist said their mental state seems fine.
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Family members, first able to reunite with them only through a glass window, now can meet face-to-face though still not touch, to ensure any illnesses don’t spread.
Banphot Konkum, father of 13-year-old Duangpetch Promthep, told The Associated Press his son — better known by his nickname, Dom — said the team members didn’t know rain had started falling after they had entered the cave on June 23. But the rain caused flooding in the cave, blocking them from exiting.
“After an hour when they wanted to leave, the water level was rising. They ran farther inside the cave to escape from the water. The water flow was strong,” said Banphot.
In their search for a safe haven, the boys were reported to have used their hands to feel the walls for an opening to take them to a higher, safer spot. Searchers later found what they thought were the boys’ handprints, giving them confidence the boys were alive and that the searchers were on the right path.
“They, all 13 of them, saw a small passage or a crawl space, so they all dug the hole to get through to another spot, until they found Nen Nom Sao,” Banphot said, referring to the sandy slope on which they ended up sheltering. There was nowhere else to go.