CHIANG RAI, Thailand — Fried chicken and a respite from homework were among the requests in a series of letters the 12 boys trapped inside a cave in northern Thailand sent out through divers on Saturday morning.
Their 25-year-old coach, meanwhile, apologized to the parents for leading the children into danger in the first place.
The boys, members of youth football team the Wild Boars, and their coach have been stranded deep in the massive Tham Luang cave for over 15 days now.
Rescuers are currently grappling with a range of escape options including scuba-diving the team through the waterlogged passages and drilling a hole in the roof of the chamber to somehow hoist them out.
None of the options appear ideal, and the letters offer insight into the mindset of the boys and their coach as they wait in the darkness to be saved.
One boy writes: "I'm doing fine, but the air is a little cold but don't worry. Although, don't forget to set up my birthday party."
Another, identified as Tun, writes: "Mom and Dad, please don't worry, I am fine. I've told Yod to get ready to take me out for fried chicken. With love." The name reference could be of a waiting relative.
The rest of the scribbled letters on pages from a notebook — the first messages in days that have emerged from the cave — struck a similar message of love for parents, telling them not to worry.
The children — aged 11 to 16 — also implored their teachers to be gentle with them when their escape is finally assured. One message read: “Not too much homework, please.”
The boys and their coach went exploring in the cave after a soccer game on June 23. Monsoon flooding cut off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for almost 10 days. The only way to reach them was by navigating dark and tight passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents and in oxygen-depleted air.
Coach Ekaphol “Ake” Chantawong, 25, has come under criticism for allowing the boys to venture so far into the treacherous cave complex which honeycombs the jungle-clad peaks on the border between Thailand and Myanmar.
Acknowledging his responsibility in his own missive to parents from the cave, he wrote: “All parents, all of the kids are fine. Staff here are taking care of the kids very well. I promise I will take care of the kids at best. Thank you for your kind support and I would like to say I’m really sorry to you all.”
Efforts to save the children were still up in the air on Saturday morning.
The governor in charge of the rescue said that the cooperating weather and falling water levels over the last few days had created conditions for extraction that won’t continue if it rains again.
There was speculation around the camp — populated by over 500 rescue divers, first responders, officials and reporters — that an attempt to save the team was imminent.
Sharp thunderstorms and lightning appeared to serve notice of heavy monsoon downpours, while lack of oxygen in the cave, a factor in the death of former Thai Navy SEAL Sanam Kunan in the early hours of Friday morning, also suggested a rescue move would be made sooner rather than later.
Rescuers said they won't immediately attempt an underwater evacuation because the boys have not yet learned adequate diving skills. But if heavy rains start again, divers will try to take the boys out right away, Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said at a midnight news conference on Friday.
“Conditions are improving gradually within the cave, so we need to choose the most appropriate time to move,” he said.
Narongsak said the boys were still healthy and have practiced wearing diving masks and breathing in preparation for that escape option.
While they wait the trapped team are stocked up with food supplies: mostly high-calorie gels. After their extended stint underground though they are desperate for tastier fare.
The released notes tell of these cravings. One, jotted down by a Thai Navy SEAL who is with the boys in the cave, said: “If they go out, they’d like to eat many things.”
Another, handwritten by one of the boys, said: “Dad, Mum, don’t worry I’m fine. Tell them, prepare to bring me fried chicken to eat.”