Twelve boys and their football coach who survived a highly dangerous and dramatic rescue from a flooded cave in Thailand are preparing to leave hospital and speak to the media for the first time.
The “Wild Boars” football team are being discharged a day earlier than announced, with authorities hoping a question and answer session will satisfy — at least temporarily — the intense media speculation that has accompanied their epic underground ordeal, before they head home later Wednesday.
“The reason to hold this evening press conference is so media can ask them questions and after that they can go back to live their normal lives without media bothering them,” Thailand’s chief government spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd told AFP.
But with experts warning of possible long-term distress from the ordeal inside the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand, the briefing will be closely watched.
The public relations department in Chiang Rai province solicited questions from news outlets in advance and they will be forwarded to psychiatrists for screening.
Called “Sending the Wild Boars Home” and broadcast on major television channels, the session will last for about 45 minutes, Sunsern said, adding that it would be conducted in an informal style with a moderator.
“They are likely to return home immediately after the press conference,” he said.
Thailand’s junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha urged media Wednesday to be “cautious in asking unimportant questions” that could cause unspecified damage.
“Today everything is already good, including the perception in foreign countries,” he told reporters in Bangkok. “Nothing is better than this so we should not make it get worse.”
Doctors have advised families of the boys, aged 11 to 16, that they should avoid letting them contact journalists for at least one month after they are discharged.
But interest in the saga is unlikely to abate, with film production houses already eyeing a Hollywood treatment of the readymade drama.
Though the boys and coach are said to be in good mental and physical health, health officials will provide additional psychological monitoring to detect lingering trauma.
Families of the youngsters are eagerly awaiting the homecoming.
Khameuy Promthep, the grandmother of 13-year-old Dom, one of the boys rescued from the cave, told AFP in an interview at their 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.
The daring Thai-led international effort to rescue the team captivated the world after the football team walked into the cave on June 23 and were trapped by rising floodwaters.
After nine days without a steady supply of food or water they were found emaciated and huddled in a group on a muddy ledge by British divers several kilometres inside Tham Luang.
Rescuers debated on the best plan to bring them out but ultimately decided on a risky operation that involved diving them through waterlogged passages while they were sedated to keep them calm and carrying them out in military-grade stretchers.
Not even the foreign cave diving specialists who took part were sure the mission would work and many expressed relief when it was all over after the final five were rescued on July 10.