CHIANG RAI, Thailand: Twelve Thai boys and their football coach rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand are recovering well from the ordeal and will be discharged from hospital next week, health minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn said on Saturday.
The last of the 12-member "Wild Boars" football team and their coach were brought out of the Tham Luang cave, near the border with Myanmar, on Tuesday night, safely ending a perilous rescue and evoking international relief and joy.
The boys and their coach have been in hospital in the northern town of Chiang Rai since they were brought to safety.
In a video played at a news conference on Saturday, they appeared well, sitting up in bed and thanking their rescuers. Some said they were looking forward to eating their favourite food such as pork fried rice and sushi.
"I want to have crispy pork rice and barbecue pork rice," Pipat Photi, 15, said in the video.
"I want pork knuckle rice," said Duangpetch Promtep, 13. "Thank you for all the moral support."
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Some of the boys lost as much as 5kg, but had started to regain weight in hospital, Piyasakol told reporters. Those who were suffering pneumonia after the rescue have also recovered and all 13 should leave hospital on Thursday, he said
"I am in good health now," said one of the boys, a 14-year-old nicknamed Note. "Thanks for saving me."
The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach had planned to explore the cavern complex for about an hour after football practice on Jun 23. But a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.
Two British divers found them on Jul 2, squatting on a mound in a flooded chamber several kilometres inside the complex. Rescuers then had to work out how to get them out through the tunnels, some of which were full of fast-flowing floodwater.
MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS
All 13 were brought to safety over the course of a three-day rescue, organised by Thai navy SEALs and an international team of cave-diving experts.
Samarn Kunan, 38, a former member of the elite SEALs unit, was the only casualty in the operation. His wife has urged the boys not to blame themselves for his death.
Samarn was cremated on Saturday in a special ceremony sponsored by the Thai royal family which was broadcast live on local television.
He was also posthumously promoted and awarded a royal medal for his bravery and contribution to the rescue, according to a statement published on Saturday in the Thai Royal Gazette.
At the scene of the rescue, 4,000 volunteers arrived on Saturday to help clean up and "restore the landscape" in and around the cave complex, according to a statement from the Chiang Rai provincial office.
While the boys and their coach are now in good health, there is concern about how they will deal with their fame, given the huge attention on the case within Thailand and beyond.
Their story is already set for a retelling by Hollywood, with two production companies looking to put together movies about the boys and their rescue.
"We need to prepare both the children and their families for the attention they will receive," Piyasakol said.
He warned relatives of the boys to resist giving interviews to media over fears they could have a negative impact on their mental health.
"Everyone has worked well together to bring the children out. We worked well together then and we should work well together now so the children can recover physically and mentally as they grow up," Piyasakol said.