Hundreds of people gathered to commemorate the five-year anniversary of the daring rescue of 12 teenage footballers from a flooded cave in northern Chiang Rai province against all odds on Monday.
The lads, now in their late teens, and their coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, descended into the Tham Luang cave complex’s spotlit chambers to pay respect to the thousands of people who worked for 18 days and nights to get them out.
The “Wild Boars” crew entered the caves in June 2018 and became stranded when rains flooded the complex, emerging to global acclaim following a daring international rescue mission.
“Without these people, we would not have survived, and we would not be alive today,” Mr Ekkapol said.
“I’d like to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart.”
However, the joyous celebration was tempered with sadness following the death of 17-year-old captain Duangpetch Promthep earlier this year while on a football scholarship in the United Kingdom.
His former teammates lay white flowers at a memorial image of him outside the caves, surrounded by throngs and vibrant jungle greenery.
Inside the cave, a video tribute was also shown to ex-Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osatanakorn, who received praise for his handling of the tragedy and died last month.
“We must not forget the efforts of everyone involved in the rescue mission, especially those who are no longer here with us,” said Varawut Silpa-archa, minister of natural resources and environment.
Offerings were also made to Jao Mae Nang Nong, a mythological princess who was thought to represent the spirit of the caverns where she allegedly perished and was regularly summoned for strength during the rescue.
They were thought to be dead until two British cave divers crossed a series of tight streams and passages and discovered them locked in a subterranean chamber four kilometres from the entrance on July 2.
The lads and their instructor had to be safely removed from the caves.
They were sedated, outfitted in wetsuits and breathing apparatus, and pulled through the complex by international cave explorers, expert divers, and a squad of Thai navy SEALs, including Saman Kunan, who died during the rescue, in a high-risk operation.
Despite the odds, the lads and their coach all survived.
Following the rescue, Adul Sam-on, one of the players who rose to celebrity after thanking the divers who found them in English, was granted Thai nationality, as were his coach and two teammates.
On Monday, the now-19-year-old stated that he had recently graduated from high school in the United States and would soon be attending university.
While there have been numerous novels, TV shows, and film adaptations of the rescue, the lads themselves have largely remained out of the spotlight.
Mongkol Booneiam, also known as Mark, said he still lives in a nearby community and plays football. “If I have free time, I try to go play,” he explained.
Governor Who Spearheaded Wild Boars Cave Rescue in Chiang Rai Dies At 58
Narongsak Osotthanakorn, the former Chiang Rai governor who received international acclaim for leading the expedition to rescue the “Wild Boars” football team from the Tham Luang cave in 2018, died of cancer at the age of 58.
Narongsakak, who was most recently governor of Pathum Thani, died peacefully on Wednesday at 5.40 p.m. at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, where he was being treated.
Narongsak, a career civil servant, was known for his rigorous and no-nonsense style, which occasionally put him in difficulty with his bosses at the Interior Ministry. During his 15 months as governor of Chiang Rai, he refused to sign off on some contentious economic stimulus projects because he suspected irregularities.
A relocation from Chiang Rai to Phayao was already in the works when fate intervened in the shape of a boys’ football team that became trapped in a flooded cave on June 23, 2018.
As the rescue attempt began to attract experts from all around the world, as well as swarms of reporters, it became evident that a steady hand would be required to organise all the moving components. Narongsak rose to the occasion, and the Interior Ministry decided to postpone his transfer until the mission to rescue the 13 people from the cave was completed.
At the start of the rescue attempt in Mae Sai Chiang Rai, Narongsak declared that any officials who were intimidated by the difficult rescue task ahead might return home.
“Anyone who cannot make enough sacrifices can go home and stay with their families,” he explained. “You may sign out and leave immediately.” I’m not going to report any of you. Those who desire to work must be prepared to start at any time. Consider them to be our own children.”
Reflecting on the mission’s accomplishment a year later, Narongsak requested that an anniversary event be organised each year to keep the memories alive.
“I’d like to see an anniversary at Tham Luang Cave every year to remember what we accomplished.” “I’d like to remember the 18 days when everyone demonstrated the power of cooperation,” he remarked.
When the Asia Society decided to honour “The Rescue Team at Tham Luang Caves” with its Asia Game Changer Award, it invited Narongsak to New York to accept it.
He expressed hope that the rescue would inspire other individuals to do good in the future.
“The mission was carried out without regard for race or nationality, and it united humanity as a whole,” he explained to his audience. “With over 10,000 people involved, we would not have been able to do it even if one function had been missing.”
“I hope the entire incident inspires everyone to begin living for others.” This minor alteration has the potential to change the world.”
Following successful terms as governor in Phayao, Lampang, and Pathum Thani, Narongsak was recently courted to explore a greater platform. The ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) was said to be interested in running him in the Bangkok governor race. He declined graciously.
“I’d rather take care of folks in the provinces,” he explained.
Narongsak is the second individual connected to the Wild Boars drama to die recently. Duangphet “Dom” Phromthep, the football team’s captain, died at the Brooke House College Football Academy in Leicester, England.