Add Thailand Cave Rescue as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Thailand Cave Rescue news, video, and analysis from ABC News. "As they were coming down the slope, we were counting them until we got to 13. unbelievable", he said.
Members of the Thai Navy SEALs team arrived home to their base at Sattahip, feted by the Thai people but saddened by the loss of their colleague.
The youth football players, who remain in hospital, reportedly told their parents, that they had barely begun their trek when flooding suddenly blocked their exit, forcing them further into the Luang Nang Non Cave in Chiang Rai.
"(They provided) everything from catering, communications, media and of course the huge teams of workers filling the cave with tonnes and tonnes of equipment to try and lower the water and sustain the diving operations", he wrote on Facebook.
"Great work and we really appreciate it", a Thai military official said as he bestowed on the men the souvenir medals during a ceremony at Chiang Rai airport. "In our country, you have so many friends".
The boys, ages 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were fully rescued Tuesday after Thai navy SEALS completed the high-risk mission through rising floodwaters.
Jon M. Chu, the director of "Crazy Rich Asians", says he's planning to make his own movie about the survival and rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in Thailand's Tham Luang Cave.
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Though the group are healthy and in good spirits, they remain in an isolation ward waiting for the medical all-clear after more than two weeks stuck deep underground in an environment where they could have been exposed to nasty diseases.
"We don't see the children as at fault or as heroes".
The father of 14-year-old Ekkarat Wongsukchan said the coach dived into the water to see their circumstances once they became trapped, and drew arrows on the cave wall so no one became lost. "Everybody pulled together and the results speak for themselves, so we're just very happy that the boys are out and safe", Volanthen told reporters.
He said "relief is the word I would use" to describe the moment he and Stanton found the group.
"We were pleased and very relieved that they were alive", Volanthen said. "I was afraid that he might think I was going to blame him, so I sent a letter of comfort to him in hospital", said the abbot.
"Very good. The best - not good - the very best". It's very calm, it's quite the opposite ...
The head of a Thai navy SEAL diving team that helped lead 12 boys and their soccer coach through a flooded cave complex to safety urged the boys on Thursday to "be a force for good" as the dramatic operation wound to a close. "It's kind of bittersweet for what's otherwise been an excellent operation".