BANGKOK • Twelve young footballers and their coach rescued from a Thai cave will be released from hospital on Thursday, health officials said, offering psychological support and urging the group to avoid media interviews despite huge interest in their against-the-odds survival story.
The group, called the "Wild Boars" after their football academy, went into the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand on June 23 to celebrate a birthday, but became trapped as floodwaters poured in.
The hunt to find them turned into an international rescue operation involving thousands of people, from specialist divers to an army of local volunteers.
The last of the team and their coach were brought out of the cave, near the border with Myanmar, last Tuesday, safely ending a perilous rescue and evoking international relief and joy. The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have been in hospital since then.
Mental health experts have warned of the long-term effects of being trapped in the dark with no food, especially in the first nine days before they were found.
"All 13 Wild Boars are in good physical health... all are in good spirits," Dr Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Public Health Minister, told reporters yesterday. "They will be discharged altogether, initially on Thursday."
The children - and their parents - have been advised to spend time with friends and family and not to give interviews as that could "trigger post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms".
The children - and their parents - have been advised to spend time with friends and family and not to give interviews as that could "trigger post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms", the minister added.
In a video played at a news conference, they appeared well, sitting up in bed, and thanking their rescuers.
"I am in good health now," said one of the boys, a 14-year-old nicknamed Note. "Thanks for saving me."
Two British divers found them on July 2, squatting on a mound in a flooded chamber several kilometres inside the cave complex.
Dr Piyasakol told reporters some of the young footballers had pneumonia when they were brought out of the cave but were recovering.
Some had also lost as much as 5kg but had regained some of the weight, and their appetites, in hospital, Dr Piyasakol said.
"I want to have crispy pork rice and barbecue pork rice," 15-year-old Pipat Photi said in the video.
"I want pork knuckle rice," said 13-year-old Duangpetch Promtep, adding: "Thank you for all the moral support."
Others said they were craving sushi.
As they recover, one major concern is how they will deal with the fame, given the huge attention, both from within Thailand and beyond, on the case.
The story is already set for a retelling by Hollywood, with two production companies looking to put together movies about the boys and their rescue.
Dr Piyasakol warned relatives to resist giving media interviews.
"Everyone has worked well together to bring the children out. We worked well together then and we should work well together now so the children can recover physically and mentally as they grow up," Dr Piyasakol said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE