Before help finally arrived, the 12 boys and soccer coach trapped in a flooded cave system in Thailand tried to dig their way out. Speaking publicly for the first time at a press conference in Chiang Rai shortly after leaving a hospital Wednesday, the team described moving backward through the cave, hoping to find a way out. Eventually, they took turns digging for something to do. All the while, "we heard the water rising towards us," the Guardian quotes coach Ekaphol Chantawong as saying. "We didn't realize how far the water could rise." Indeed, Chantawong said all members of the team—who appeared happy and smiling—agreed to explore the cave for the first time on June 23 but found their return path had been partially flooded after only an hour, per CNN. Though the boys could swim, it wasn't enough to escape, Chantawong added.
One boy said he thought of his mother, another said he worried about homework. All expressed their thanks and apologized for not telling their parents of their plan. Now in good health and able to return home, the boys—including four who are to receive Thai citizenship—dream of becoming professional soccer players or Navy SEALs. They also plan to join the Thai monkhood as novices, as Chantawong previously did, in honor of the diver who died during the rescue operation, per the Guardian. "It's for their protection," a grandfather of one of the boys tells the BBC. "It's like they died, but now have been reborn." Per the BBC, some locals feel the boys need to be spiritually cleansed based on the belief that their venture offended the spirit of a mythical princess said to have occupied the Tham Luang cave for centuries. (Read more Thailand stories.)