Nearly a fortnight ago, the boys of the Wild Boar football club finished footbll practice and started riding their bikes to the Tham Luang Nang Non cavefor a picnic. Two members of the team stayed behind.
Songpol Kanthawong, 13, did not take a bike to practice that day. Thaweechai Nameng, 13, was ordered by his parents to return home to catch up on his homework.
Both narrowly avoided the fate of their 12 teammates, who have spent the past dozen days stranded several kilometres inside the Tham Luang cave while an entire country rallies behind the effort to free them.
Around 9pm on the day the boys left for the caves, Kanthawong got a call from his uncle, one of the team’s coaches. “Do you know where Ekk is?” he asked, in reference to the 25-year-old assistant coach stuck along with the boys.
“They went to the cave,” Kanthawong says he replied. It set off a frantic investigation by family and club members. Around 11.30pm that night, the coach called Kanthawong’s mother back with the news. “Their bikes are still in front of the the cave.”
The next morning, Kanthawong went with his parents to the cave as rescue crews were arriving. The three of them sat by the entrance for hours, quietly praying.
He tried to go back to school on Monday, but was too overwhelmed with worry to study. His parents took him back to the cave on Tuesday morning, where again he prayed until the evening.
“I was so shocked and I am worried and I don’t think I’m the only one,” he told the Guardian. “Everybody is.”
Kanthawong showed the team’s Facebook Messenger group, which has been inundated with messages for stricken members of the team. “We miss you,” one says. “We wish we could meet you all now,” says another.
No teams from the club, who mostly belong to Thailand’s Akka and Thai Lue minorities, have played since the boys vanished.
Nameng knows the Tham Laung cave well, recently visiting with his boy scout troupe. “When you’re in the cave, you don’t hear the rain,” he says. “By the time the rain came and the water started flowing, they would have been too far inside.”
He says the area where rescuers found the boys’ backpacks and snacks is the furthest he has ever been, a passage where the path narrows so much that squeezing through with bags becomes extremely difficult – especially if you are rushing. “It’s scary and it’s dark,” he said.
He says widespread reports that the boys cannot swim are wrong, showing a recent picture of the team at a swimming pool, some wearing football jerseys in the water.
Kanthawong was asleep on Monday night when British divers found the boys. His grandmother was shouting with joy – he thought there might have been a fire. “I was so happy,” he said, showing some of the jubilant messages on the club’s Facebook Messenger thread.
He is worried but feels a twinge of relief that his family is not experiencing what those his teammates are undergoing. “My mum says if I was one of the kids in the cave she would have been in the ICU right now,” Kanthawong says.
The boys are already planning their celebrations for when their friends are freed. “We will have a BBQ pork party,” they agree. – Guardian