Chiang Rai, Thailand (Reuters) – Twelve Thai boys and their football coach, rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand, are recovering well from their ordeal and will be released from hospital next week, Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn said Saturday.
The last of the 12-headed "Wild Boars" football team and their coach were taken from Tham Luang Cave near the Myanmar border on Tuesday evening to end a dangerous rescue and bring international relief and joy.
The boys and their coach have been in the hospital ever since.
In a video that was played at a press conference on Saturday, they appeared well, sat in bed and thanked their rescuers.
"I'm well now," said one of the boys, a 14-year-old nickname.
"Thank you for saving me."
The boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old trainer had planned to explore the cave complex for about an hour after football training on June 23. But a rainstorm in the rainy season flooded the tunnels and held them tight.
Two British divers found them on 2 July and squatted on a hill in a flooded chamber several kilometers inside the complex.
Then the problem of how to get them out through the tunnels became some of them full of fast flowing floods.
All 13 were brought to safety during a three-day rescue operation organized by Thai seafarers and an international team of cave diving experts.
Piyasakol told reporters the health of all 13 had improved. Some had pneumonia when they were taken out of the cave, but recovered, he said.
All are released Thursday from the hospital in the northern city of Chiang Rai, he said.
Some of the group had lost up to 5 kg, but in the hospital, Piyasakol said, they regained some of their weight and appetite.
"I want crispy pork rice and barbecue pork rice," said 15-year-old Pipat Photi in the video.
"I want pork shank rice," said 13-year-old Duangpetch Promtep.
"Thanks for all the moral support."
Others said they were looking for sushi.
But while the group is healthy, they still face challenges.
One concern was how to handle the glory, given the great attention paid to the case both in Thailand and beyond.
The story is already ripe for a retelling of Hollywood, with two production companies that want to put together films about the boys and their rescue.
"We need to prepare both the children and their families for the attention they will receive when they come out," Piyasakol said.
He warned the boy's relatives not to interview the media because they feared that they could have a negative impact on their mental health.
"Everyone worked well together to bring the kids out, so we worked well together and we should now work well together so that the kids can physically and mentally recover when they grow up," Piyasakol said.
Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Writing by James Pearson; Arrangement by Jacqueline Wong, Robert Birsel