CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - The international team that successfully rescued 12 Thai boys and their football coach from a flooded cave in Chiang Rai province had to think twice before making decisions, the chief of the mission, Mr Narongsak Osotthanakorn, said on Wednesday (July 11).
Speaking at a press conference a day after the last members of the group were extracted, Mr Narongsak - the former governor of Chiang Rai province - said rescuers had to be confident before they attempted the daring rescue through narrow tunnels and murky waters.
"In this crisis, we had to think twice before making decisions. Safety came first," said Mr Narongsak. "We had to be confident first."
Mr Nargongsak noted that there were divergent views on whether the children themselves were heroes for surviving so long in the pitch black cave.
"Some say the boys were heroes, others say they weren't. But this is what kids do. They're young and inexperienced. Even now, they don't know that millions of people know about them," said Mr Narongsak. He added that he believed the children will be contributing back to society when they grow up.
"The most important is the things we learnt that never happened before... (I am) hopeful we can teach children as well as rescue teams," he added.
"We also learnt from this situation and had to make some improvements more quickly," said Mr Narongsak, noting that a quarter of the diving team were foreigners.
"Yesterday I mentioned the real hero was Sam," said Mr Narongsak, referring to former Navy Seal Saman Gunan, 38, who passed out and died on July 6 while returning from the chamber where the boys were trapped.
"On the day he died, we were very depressed. But we used the sadness to unite us," he said.
Speaking after Mr Narongsak, Navy SEAL chief Rear Admiral Aphakorn Yoo-kongkaew said, "The governor said I'm a hero. I'm not a hero... For the SEALs, there's a slogan, never leave a civilian behind. So when we received the call, we came without hesitation."
A video of the rescue operation inside the cave was shown to the media during the press conference.