Two-fingered victory signs, smiles broad enough to creep out from underneath surgical face-masks, and palms pressed together in a greeting. And watching all of this, grateful parents, some of them with faces streaked by tears.
These were the scenes at a hospital ward in the Thai city of Chiang Rai, where six of the 12 rescued footballing youngsters were being treated, as the first video emerged since the rescue of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach from the Tham Luang cave.
A day after the three-day operation to recover the trapped youngsters – children whose plight had gripped the world and whose rescue as a result of international cooperation inspired widespread admiration – the boys were shown in a ward in the city’s Prachanukroh Hospital. All 12 of the boys and their coach were being kept in quarantine at the facility.
The video showed the boys lying in beds, their faces covered with green masks. Yet despite their faces being covered, it appeared some of the youngsters were smiling and clearly relieved. The youngest of them was just 11.
One of the boys give a two-fingered victory sign to the person shooting the video, while another pushed his hands together in the form of a typical Buddhist greeting. Outside the ward, their faces pressed up close to the glass, were some of the parents, who for 18 days had been fearing they may never see their children again.
“Don’t need to worry about their physical health and even more so for their mental health,” Chaiwetch Thanapaisal, the hospital’s director told reporters, according to Reuters. “Everyone is strong in mind and heart.”
The four boys and the teams’s coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, brought out on Tuesday on the final day of an all-out three-day operation, had recovered more quickly than the boys rescued on Sunday and Monday, said Mr Chaiwetch.
Even so, all of them needed to be monitored in the hospital for seven days and then rest at home for another 30 days, he said. Three of the boys have slight lung infections.
Another video released on Facebook by the Thai Navy SEALs, who were central to the rescue, apparently showed one of the boys being carried through part of the muddy cave on a stretcher covered by an emergency thermal blanket.
The SEALs commander, Rear Adm Apakorn Youkongkae, said the boys’ coach had told the SEALs the order in which the boys should be rescued.
“I have’t asked the coach yet why he chose that order,” he said. “The coach was the one to choose.”
Earlier on Wednesday, some of the divers involved in Tuesday’s final mission, revealed there had been a hair-raising moment just hours after the last boy left the cave when the main pump failed, causing water levels to rise suddenly.
One diver, who has not been named, was quoted in the Guardian as saying he heard screams coming from deeper within the caves as those working to clean up all the equipment used in the rescue ran to escape the rising waters, their headlamps flashing in the dark.
“The screams started coming because the main pumps failed and the water started rising,” he said. “All these headlights start coming over the hill and the water was coming…It was noticeably rising.”
At that time there were still around 100 people working in the cave, some more than a mile inside the hillside. They were all able to get out safely, however.
At a news conference on Wednesday morning, Commander Glenn McEwan of the Australian Federal Police – leading the 19-strong Australian contingent of the rescue effort – was asked what might have happened if the pump had failed while the boys were still inside.
He said: “Of course it would have been harder. But the pumps had worked and they greatly assisted the accessibility and allowed the effort to continue and be as success as it was.”
“Speculation is probably not warranted right now,” he said, adding that you could always have “a million what ifs”. “We are here to celebrate the success; the pumps did work and did greatly assist our endeavours.”
All 12 boys and their coach are currently in quarantine in the main hospital in Chiang Rai city, after those rescued on Tuesday night were flown by helicopter to join their teammates.
Thongchai Lertwilairattanapong, an inspector for Thailand’s health department, told reporters the boys had lost an average of 2kg (4 pounds) in weight during their time trapped in the cave.
“From our assessment, they are in good condition and not stressed. The children were well taken care of in the cave,” he said.
Parents of the first four boys freed on Sunday have been able to visit them but had to wear protective suits and stand 2 metres (7 feet) away as a precaution.
The group had entered the sprawling Tham Luang cave to go exploring after soccer practice on June 23, but monsoon rains soon filled the tight passageways, blocking their escape. They were found by a pair of British divers nearly 10 days later, huddled on a small, dry shelf.
With Thailand taking the lead in the rescue operation, help came from Britain, the United States, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, China and Australia, a government document showed. There were also volunteers from Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Ukraine and Finland.
Mr McEwan acknowledged the degree of international cooperation “in a very unfriendly environment”.
“It is amazing what the human being can do. There are extraordinary people doing extraordinary things,” he said. “We are humbled to have been a part of it. Returning the Wild Boar soccer team safely into the arms of their loved ones is the good news of the year.”