Boys only meant to be in cave for an hour

Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat
The boys rescued from Thailand's Tham Luang cave only intended exploring its caverns for an hour

Twelve boys and their soccer coach rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand planned to explore the cavern complex for only about an hour, one of the boys' fathers says.

All 12 of the boys and their 25-year-old coach were brought to safety over the course of a three-day rescue, organised by Thai navy SEALs and an international team of diving and caving experts, that ended on Tuesday.

They had gone into the Tham Luang cave in the northern province of Chiang Rai on June 23, for a quick excursion after soccer practice, when a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.

"He told me that as soon as they finished practice they went to play at the cave. They thought they'd only be an hour," Banpot Korncam, father of the 13-year-old captain of the Wild Boars team, told media.

"While they were inside the cave it rained, water flowed in and everyone took off," Banpot said.

Two British divers found the boys on July 2, squatting on a muddy mound in a flooded chamber several kilometres inside the complex, nine days after they went for their quick jaunt.

Then the problem became how to get them back out through the tunnels, some completely full of fast-flowing flood water.

The boys, aged 11 to 16, had to dive for part of their journey out before they were put on green plastic toboggan-like stretchers and carried, at times through steep, rocky tunnels, with ropes strung overhead.

Many in Thailand have credited the coach, Ekkapol Chantawong or Ek as he is known for keeping the boys safe during the ordeal.

"They just sat quietly without doing anything because it was dark," said Banpot, recounting what his son, who is still in hospital, had told him.

"When they were hungry coach Ek would use a flashlight to shine on the stalactites above," he said.

The group survived by drinking water that dripped off the stalactites and the cave walls, rescue officials said.