After rescue, soccer boys pray for protection at Thai temple

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Soccer coach Ekkapol Janthawong, second from left, and members of the rescued soccer team attend a Buddhist ceremony in Mae Sai district, Chiang Rai province, Thursday, July 19. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Soccer coach Ekkapol Janthawong, second from left, and members of the rescued soccer team attend a Buddhist ceremony in Mae Sai district, Chiang Rai province, Thursday, July 19. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Chiang Rai (AP) — The youth soccer teammates rescued from a flooded cave began their first day back home with their families Thursday by going to a Buddhist temple to pray for protection from misfortunes.

Eleven of the boys and the Wild Boars coach kneeled and pressed their hands in prayer to the tune of chanting monks at the ceremony meant to extend one’s life and protect it from dangers. They were joined by relatives and friends at the Wat Pra That Doi Wao temple, overlooking Myanmar on Thailand’s northern border.

Only one member was absent, Adul Sargon, who is not Buddhist.

The team has already said they would ordain as Buddhist novices to honor a former Thai navy SEAL diver who died in the cave while making preparations for their rescue.

On Wednesday evening, the boys and coach were released from hospital and spoke to the media for the first time since their ordeal, describing their surprise at seeing two British divers rising from muddy waters in the recesses of the cave. It would be another week before they were pulled out of the Tham Luang cave.

“We weren’t sure if it was for real,” 14-year-old Adul said. “So we stopped and listened. And it turned out to be true. I was shocked.”

In one poignant and emotional moment at the news conference, a portrait was displayed of Saman Gunan, the Thai diver who died. One of the boys, 11-year-old Chanin “Titan” Vibulrungruang, the youngest of the group, covered his eyes as if wiping away a tear.

“I feel sad. And another thing is I’m really impressed with Sgt. Sam for sacrificing his life to let all 13 Wild Boars to be able to live our lives outside happily and normally,” said Coach Ekapol “Ake” Chanthawong. “When we found out, everyone was sad. Extremely sad, like we were the cause of this, for making the sergeant’s family sad and having to face problems.”