Some of the 12 boys dramatically rescued from deep inside a Thai cave after being trapped for more than two weeks play with soccer balls before a press conference in Chiang Rai on July 18, 2018, after their discharge from hospital. Photo: AFP / Lillian Suwanrumpha

The famous “cave boys” who survived more than two weeks trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand went through another marathon experience on Wednesday – but a much happier one, with bright smiles all around.

The 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their soccer coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, 25, gathered at 6pm Thai time for a globally televised news conference attended by a mob of local and foreign journalists. For about an hour and a half, they answered questions about their ordeal.

Ekkapol and the boys, members of the Wild Boars youth soccer club, were found by British divers after being trapped in the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province for nine days. After a daring and complicated rescue operation spanning three days, the last five finally saw the light of day on July 10 – 18 days after entering the cave.

All of them were admitted to a hospital in Chiang Rai city for physical and psychological examination until they were released on Wednesday.  At the press conference later that day, they looked healthy and happy as they answered questions about their experience.

A packed crowd greeted the youngsters as they walked into the conference area backed by a banner reading “Bringing the Wild Boars home” in Thai, clad in their team jerseys, and offering polite wais to all.

“It is a miracle,” team member Adul Sam-on, 14, said of the rescue, as the boys were quizzed about their terrifying experience.

The team had no food at all until they were found deep in the complex, surviving only on water that dripped down the side of the cave.

“We tried to dig out as we thought we cannot only wait for authorities to get us,” coach Ekkapol told reporters.

Doctors said all 13 were in good physical and mental health after recuperating in hospital.

The briefing was tightly controlled, with experts warning of possible long-term distress from their ordeal in the cave.

The Public Relations Department in Chiang Rai solicited questions from news outlets in advance, which were forwarded to psychiatrists for screening.

Thailand’s junta leader Prayut Chan-ocha urged the media on Wednesday to be “cautious in asking unimportant questions” that could cause unspecified damage.

Doctors have advised families of the players, aged 11 to 16, that they should avoid letting them contact journalists for at least a month.

The boys, who returned to their families on Wednesday evening, announced their plan to be temporarily ordained as monks to honor the death of Saman Kunan, a Thai Navy SEAL who died during the rescue.

Khameuy Promthep, the grandmother of 13-year-old Dom, one of the boys rescued from the cave, told Agence France-Presse in an interview at the family shop in Mae Sai near the Myanmar border on Wednesday that she was very excited.

“This is the happiest day of my life,” she said.

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