The coach of a boys soccer team trapped inside a cave in northern Thailand has apologized to their parents in a handwritten letter and promised to take good care of the youngsters while they wait for rescuers to evacuate them.
"To the parents of all the kids, right now the kids are all fine, the crew are taking good care. I promise I will care for the kids as best as possible. I want to say thanks for all the support and I want to apologize to the parents," Ekapol Chanthawong, 25, wrote in Thai.
The coach's message was among the brief but emotional notes written by each of the 12 boys on seven pieces of paper. The Royal Thai Navy delivered them to the families waiting anxiously outside the cave and posted images of the letters on social media Saturday.
Ekapol and the boys, ages 11 to 16, have been trapped inside Tham Luang Nang Non, Thailand’s longest cave, since June 23. It’s believed the coach often took the Wild Boar teammates to the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park for fun excursions after soccer practice.
But as the group ventured deeper into the vast cave complex that Saturday afternoon, the sky opened up and it began to rain. The downpour sent floodwater rushing into the mouth of the cave and cut off their exit route. The group forged ahead until finding a dry, raised slope where they have remained stranded.
After they didn’t return from their hike, Thai officials launched a massive search and rescue operation involving more than 1,000 people, including specialists drafted from various nations such as Australia, China, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Persistent rain initially impeded efforts to locate the group. But on July 2, two British divers found all 13 alive in an area about three miles from the cave’s main entrance.
A team of Royal Thai Navy members, a doctor and a nurse have been staying with the group ever since, giving them high-powered protein drinks and medical assessments, while officials work on a plan to get them out as safely and quickly as possible.
"The kids are healthy, coherent, having fun, playing with each other -- they have some minor cuts and minor injuries only," Narongsak Osatanakorn, the Thai official in charge of the rescue operation, told reporters Saturday. "They are a little tired because they cannot get healthy, balanced meals."
Despite their ordeal, the boys wrote in the letters that they are "safe" and told their parents "don't worry." Some even joked how they don't miss homework, but can't wait to eat their favorite foods like fried chicken and barbecue pork.
The messages are all written in Thai and have been translated by ABC News.
The first note came from one who did not include their name: "If they go out, they'd like to eat many things -- they want to go straight to their home -- not too much homework, please."
Chanin "Tun" Wiboonrungrueng, 11, wrote: "Dad, Mum, don't worry I'm fine. Tell Yord, prepare to bring me fried chicken to eat."
Chanthawong, the boys' coach, wrote: "To the parents of all the kids, right now the kids are all fine, the crew are taking good care. I promise I will care for the kids as best as possible. I want to say thanks for all the support and I want to apologize to the parents."
Sompong "Pong" Jaiwong, 13, wrote: "Dear Mum and Dad, I love you. Don't worry, I'm safe. Love you all."
Pipat "Nick" Bodhi, 15, wrote: "Mum, Dad, Nick loves both of you and brother. If I can go out, bring to me pork BBQ please. I love Mom, Dad and brother."
Mongkol "Mark" Boonpiam, 14, wrote: “Are you OK at home Mum? Please tell my teacher. Love you Mum.”
Panumas "Mick" Saengdee, 13, wrote: "Don't worry. I really miss everyone. Grandpa, uncle, Dad, Mum and brothers. I love you all. I'm very happy here. SEAL team is taking care of me very well. Love you all."
Duangpetch "Dom" Promthep, 13, wrote: "I'm fine but it's a little bit cold, don't worry and don't forget my birthday."
Adul "Dul" Sam-on, 14, wrote: "Don't worry about us now. I miss everyone. I want to go back now."
Peerapat "Night" Sompiangjai, 16: "I love Dad, Mum and brother. Don't worry about me. Night loves everyone."
Nattawut "Tle" Takamsai, 14: "I miss Mum and Dad and [unintelligible] too. I love both of you. Don't worry, I can take care of myself."
Prajak "Note" Sutham, 14: "I'm safe, don't worry. Love you Mum, Dad and everyone."
Ekkarat "Bill" Wongsookchan, 14, wrote: "Mum and Dad, don't worry that I'm missing for two weeks. I will help you at the shop soon."
Pornchai "Tee" Kamluang, 16, wrote: "Mum, Dad, brother and family. Don't worry, I'm very happy."