The Thai hospital where the 12 boys and their football coach are recuperating after being rescued from a flooded cave released video on Wednesday showing them in their hospital beds, smiling and chatting with nurses.
The video shows the boys in an isolation ward in beds with crisp white sheets and wearing green surgical masks. Some of their parents are seen crying and waving to them from behind glass.
Chaiwetch Thanapaisal, director of Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital, told a news conference involving officials involved in the rescue that “everyone is strong in mind and heart”.
The video surfaced as it emerged that the boys were passed “sleeping” on stretchers through the treacherous cave pathways.
A former Thai Navy Seal who was the last diver to leave the Tham Luang complex told AFP some of the first details of the operation, which has been shrouded in secrecy since it began on Sunday and ended successfully three days later.
“Some of them were asleep, some of them were wiggling their fingers… (as if) groggy, but they were breathing,” Commander Chaiyananta Peeranarong said, adding that doctors stationed along the dark corridors of the Tham Luang cave were constantly checking their condition and pulse.
“My job was to transfer them along,” he said, adding the “boys were wrapped up in stretchers already when they were being transferred”.
Thailand’s junta chief told reporters on Tuesday that the group had been given a “minor tranquiliser” to help calm their nerves, but he denied they were knocked out for the rescue.
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‘They are in good condition and not stressed’
The members of the “Wild Boars” team, aged 11-16, had no experience in scuba diving, and the death of an ex-Navy Seal who had helped install oxygen tanks in preparation for the rescue underscored the dangers of the mission.
Thailand said it had called on 13 “world class” divers to help with the unprecedented job, one of whom was Australian Richard “Harry” Harris, a diver and professional anaesthetist.
The 12 boys and their coach lost an average of 2 kg (4.4 lb) during their 17-day ordeal but were generally in good condition and showed no signs of stress, a senior health official said on Wednesday.
They were taken by helicopter to a hospital about 70 km (45 miles) away to join their team mates in quarantine for the time being.
“From our assessment, they are in good condition and not stressed. The children were well taken care of in the cave. Most of the boys lost an average of 2 kg,” Thongchai Lertwilairattanapong, an inspector for Thailand’s health department, told reporters.
Thai cave rescue: How it’s being done
First visits for families
Parents of the first four boys freed on Sunday have been able to visit them but had to wear protective suits and stand 2 metres (7 feet) away as a precaution.
Thongchai said one from the last group rescued on Tuesday had a lung infection and they were all given vaccinations for rabies and tetanus.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha asked that the boys be given time and space to recover.
“The important thing is … personal space,” Prayuth told reporters. “The best way is not to bother them and let them study.”
The group ventured into the vast cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai after football practice on June 23 and were trapped when a rainy season downpour flooded tunnels.
They were lost for nine days before they were discovered by British divers on July 2.
Rescue mission chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told a news conference the boys were just being children when they got lost and no one was to blame.
“We don’t see the children as at fault or as heroes. They are children being children, it was an accident,” he said.
He said falling oxygen levels inside the cave complex had added a sense of urgency to the rescue.
The commander of the Navy Seal unit that oversaw the rescue, Rear Admiral Apakorn Yuukongkaew, hailed the international effort.
“We are not heroes. This mission was successful because of cooperation from everyone,” he said. “For Seals, this is what we were trained for. The navy has a motto: ‘We don’t abandon the people’.”
Official help came from Britain, the United States, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, China and Australia, a government document showed. There were volunteers from Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Ukraine and Finland.