By THE NATION
After days of anguish, good news arrived on Monday night that all of the stranded team members had been found alive and well.
When the news was confirmed, the father of 14-year-old Ekkarat Wongsukchan screamed ecstatically and tears ran down his face.
“I must admit that my hope to see my son again plunged drastically because I saw with my own eyes what was inside the cave,” he said yesterday.
The father joined a search team as it entered the second chamber of the cave. Various sections of the cave are heavily flooded.
When flash floods hit the cave on June 23, the 13 members of the Mu Pa Academy Mae Sae were inside and found it impossible to get out.
Floodwaters have driven back rescue teams – including Royal Thai Navy’s SEALs and foreign diving experts – for days.
“Actually when downpours continued for several days last week, my family lost hope,” Ekkarat’s father said. “Back then, we only thought that we would wait till our son came out, whether dead or alive”.
He said the successful outcome of the search is a miracle. “I would like to thank everyone for helping with the rescue mission. My thanks also go to all Thais for their prayers and moral support,” he said.
He said he would give his son a “big hug” when he comes out of the cave.
The mother of 11-year-old Chanin Wibulrungreung said she almost thought that she would never see her son again, after rescue operations went into their 10th day.
“I cry tears of joy now,” she said.
Another parent said he was so glad that he could not think of anything else.
The mother of another team member said: “All I can say is that now I am over the moon.”
As all-out rescue efforts continued in the areas around and inside the cave, the victims’ family members remained camped out in front of the cave to get updates and pray for the best.
Smiles have now spread on the faces of not just the parents but also teachers and classmates of the Mu Pa members. Students and teachers at Mae Sai Prasitsart School in Chiang Rai, the school attended by six of the 12 trapped youths, were delighted to hear they’d been found safe.
School director Khanet Pongsuwan said yesterday everyone was now sending their best wishes for the football squad’s swift and safe extraction from the cave.
Khanet said parents of the six boys did not have to worry about their academic standing because a tutor would be assigned to get them caught up on their studies. He extended everyone’s thanks to Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn and all the officials and volunteers participating in the mission.
Khanet said he had phoned the parents of his six missing students on hearing they’d been found and assured them the boys’ education would not suffer. They need to focus on the youngsters’ physical and mental recovery first, he said.
Mathayom 2 classmate Nitipat Pattanapat sang a song he’d composed, “Courage in the Darkness”, at a school assembly yesterday morning, prompting tears and smiles.