The 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand waved, smiled and offered traditional "wai" greetings in their first public appearance at a national broadcast in the northern province of Chiang Rai.
The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have been in hospital in the northern city of Chiang Rai, following a successful worldwide effort to rescue them last week after they became trapped in the flooded Tham Luang cave complex.
Over the course of the next week, rescuers worked 24 hours a day plotted a way to get the boys and their coach out alive. They were able to rescue the boys and their coach by bringing the team out in three separate rescue missions that spanned three days. But the sleepy, northern town of Chiang Rai kicked into action again on Wednesday ahead of the boys' much-anticipated appearance.
Some Thai television personalities joked that the boys' appearance would boost ratings for an otherwise tiresome show that features discussions of the military government's performance. He added that the boys would ordain as monks in honour of the former Navy Seal who died during the mission.
"We don't know what wounds the kids are carrying in their hearts", said justice ministry official Tawatchai Thaikaew, who asked for the boys' privacy to be respected, citing worries over the impact of media attention on their mental health. "It's just all I could think about: food".
Asked what the moment was like when they finally were found in the cave - and they got their first sign of hope, one the boys, Adun Sam-on, told the media that they heard a noise, but, he added, "We were not sure if it was a hallucination". I want to say thanks to those who rescued my boy. - The young footballers and their coach appeared healthy when they appeared before the media for the first time on July 18.
"We feel very sad" about his death, Ekapol said. Shortly after entering the cave, heavy rains and flooding trapped them underground for more than two weeks.
Contrary to news reports that none of the boys could swim, it was learned at Wednesday's tightly controlled and scripted news conference that all could swim.
One boy said he thought of his mother, another said he anxious about homework. "I can confirm they are ready to go home, both mentally and physically".
It wasn't until two days had passed that they started feeling weak and the coach advised them to stay close together to conserve energy and heat. They huddled on a patch of dry ground deep inside the cave.
It was meant to be a fun excursion after football practice, but it turned into a life-threatening, two-week ordeal for a group of youngsters trapped in a cave with rising waters and no apparent escape route.
Video of the moment the boys - dressed in green, white and black uniforms emblazoned with a red wild boar - met the Seals shows them passing the ball around.
Several of the boys also apologised to their parents for sneaking off to the caves after claiming they were only playing football.
Members of a Thai youth soccer team who were trapped in a cave have left the hospital where they have been treated since their rescue, and are slated to hold a news conference before they return to their homes.