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Thai boys rescued from flooded caves relive 'miracle' moment divers found them

The boys had even tried to dig their way out of the cave. Credit: PA

Twelve boys and their football coach who were saved in a dramatic cave rescue in northern Thailand have told of their 'miracle' escape.

Speaking to the media for the first time since their difficult ordeal, the group revealed they had gone nine days without food, were forced to drink water from stalactites and even tried to dig their way out in desperation.

The youngsters, who looked healthy after their 18 days trapped in the underground complex, recounted the moment they were first found by British divers helping the rescue effort.

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The boys and their coach had decided to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai province after their football practice on June 23, but found themselves trapped after rain flooded the tunnels.

“We took turns digging at the cave walls,” said the boy's coach, Ekkapol Chantawong.

“We didn’t want to wait around until authorities found us.”

Fourteen-year-old Adul Samon added, “We were digging stones on top of the hill and we heard voices.

“We weren’t sure if it was for real, so we stopped and listened. And it turned out to be true. I was shocked.”

Banphot Konkum, the uncle of Duangpetch Promthep, weeps ahead of the team being unveiled. Credit: AP

Ekkapol also said that the order in which the boys were rescued did not depend on their heath.

“The ones whose homes are the furthest went first, so they could tell everyone that the boys were fine,” he added.

Some of the parents believe that their coach kept the boys alive before they were discovered.

One of their greatest struggles was hunger, with the youngest member of the team, Titan, admitting he had to try not to think about food so he didn't get hungry.

Another boy said he was scared to home incase he was scolded by his mother.

British divers were instrumental in the cave rescue. Credit: PA

Doctors said the 13 were healthy in body and mind, but officials reviewed questions in advance to make sure none could cause damaging psychological effects.

They added that the boys had gained around 6.6lbs on average since they were rescued from the cave, having lost an average of 9lbs during 18 days trapped in the cave.

The boys and their coach also remembered ex-Navy SEAL Sanam Kunan, 38, who lost his life trying to save the group.

“Everyone was very sad,” said coach Ekkapol.

“They felt like they were the reason he had to die and his family had to suffer.”

British divers found the group huddling on a spot of dry ground deep inside the cave nearly 10 days later, hungry but generally healthy.

An international team of rescuers using diving equipment and pulleys extracted the 12 boys, who range in age from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach through the tight, flooded passageways over three days, concluding on July 10.

The boys and their coach were treated at a hospital in Chiang Rai. Credit: AP

Some of the boys were treated for minor infections during their hospital stay, but all 13 have been described as recovering well.

One of the boys, 13-year-old Mongkol Boonpiam, said: “I feel stronger, I have more patience, endurance, tolerance.

Adul said: “This experience teaches me not to live life carelessly.”

Several of the boys said they want to become professional soccer players, while four said they wanted to emulate the heroes who saved them.

“I want to be a navy SEAL because I want to help others,” said one.

One of the boys returned home on Wednesday night.

Banphot Konkum, an uncle who has raised 13-year-old Duangpetch Promthep, said he will have a renovated bedroom and gifts awaiting him.

“We’ll do whatever he wants. If he wants anything we’ll buy it for him as a present as we promised that when he gets out, whatever he wants we’ll do it for him,” Mr Banphot said.