Drinking cave water and not thinking about fried rice: Here's how the Thai soccer team survived 9 days in a flooded cave with no food or drink

Channel News Asia/YouTubeThe Thai soccer team’s 25-year-old coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, explained how the team survived nine days in the cave.
  • The Thai soccer team that was trapped inside an underground cave for 17 days have explained why they entered the cave and how they managed to survive for so long.
  • The team did not prepare supplies in advance for their cave exploration, and were soon trapped inside the cave’s winding chambers due to rising flood waters.
  • While waiting to be freed, the boys survived on just cave water and tried not to think about their favourite food in order to survive.

The Thai soccer team that was trapped inside a flooded cave complex for 17 days have explained why they entered the cave and how they managed to survive for so long.

The team decided to enter the cave after their soccer practice on June 23, 25-year-old coach Ekapol Chanthawong told reporters on Wednesday.

Ekapol added that many of the boys had been inside the cave before, and that they had discussed going into the cave prior to their practice.

Water levels inside the cave appeared to be normal when they first went in, and they had only planned to remain inside for one hour anyway, Ekapol said.

Because the team had only planned to remain inside for one hour, they did not prepare supplies in advance for their cave exploration, and were soon trapped inside the cave’s winding chambers due to rising flood waters. They had no food because they had eaten before practice.

Thai Cave Map 4x3Skye Gould/Business Insider

Drinking from stalactites

As rain caused waters inside the cave to swell, the boys sought higher ground and went deeper into the cave, Ekapol said on Wednesday.

The boys initially thought they could exit from another part of the cave. But after unsuccessfully attempting to find another way out, they decided to stay overnight and wait until water levels inside the cave receded.

They later settled on an area which featured dripping stalactites which they used as a source of drinking water.

But water levels did not recede and they decided to try and dig their way out while waiting for rescue teams to come and find them, Ekapol said.

Without food, and surviving on just cave water, the boys took turns eventually digging a 16-foot hole into the cave wall.

“We tried not to think of food, like fried rice”

The boys were taught how to meditate to conserve energy, and many avoided thinking about food in order to stave off hunger.

11-year-old Chanin Vibulrungruang, the youngest team member, told reporters: “We felt dizzy and hungry while we were trapped in the cave complex.

“We tried not to think of food, like fried rice, because it would make us hungrier.”

Coach Ekapol added that he felt confident that they would be discovered by authorities, and they remained in place. He encouraged the boys not to be worried or scared.

Boys who lived furthest away left first so they could ‘ride their bikes’ home

British divers eventually found the boys after a nine-day search effort. The boys, their coach, international rescue divers, and Thai Navy SEALs collectively decided who should be rescued from the caves first.

Chanthawong said he asked the boys to “raise their hands” if they wanted to leave the cave first, and many were happy to stay back with the Thai Navy SEALs, with whom they had developed a close bond.

Eventually, it was the boys that lived the furthest away that were chosen to leave the cave first so they could “ride their bikes” and tell concerned families and authorities that they were ok and to prepare food.

The boys were rescued over a three-day mission, with a team of divers taking the boys out through the treacherous hours-long journey in groups of four or five. The last batch were extracted last Monday.

Boys wore full-face masks and were attached to divers on either end, who guided them through the cave’s winding chambers.

“Ready to go home, both mentally and physically”

After being extracted from the cave, the boys were taken to the hospital, where they recovered in quarantine for a week eating soft, bland foods.

Doctors on Wednesday said the boys were “emotionally and physically” strong and are ready to return to “normal life.”

“We had experts look at them and checked their blood for diseases,” doctors told reporters. “I can confirm they are ready to go home, both mentally and physically.

“They have been ready to go home since they were in the cave,” the doctors said.

Psychiatrists said they want the boys to “lead a normal life as soon as possible,” and not be given special treatment as they continue to recover.

“We ask everyone to give them personal space and time to be with their families and go to school,” they said.

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