CHIANG RAI, Thailand -- The 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand are set to make their first public appearance on Wednesday, at a nationally-broadcast news conference in the northern province of Chiang Rai.
The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have been in hospital following a successful international effort to rescue them last week after they became trapped in the flooded Tham Luang cave complex.
The government has allotted a 45-minute slot to Wednesday’s news conference on its “Thailand Moves Forward” program, which will also be televised live on dozens of channels around 6 p.m.
The boys, their coach and some rescuers will be asked a series of carefully vetted questions submitted by journalists in advance, officials said.
“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.
“The media know the children are in a difficult situation, they have overcome peril and if you ask risky questions then it could break the law,” he told reporters.Some Thai television personalities joked that the boys’ appearance would boost ratings for an otherwise dull show that usually features discussions of the military government’s performance.
“This is the story all Thais want to hear. Don’t switch it off, don’t put it on mute,” joked a presenter of Voice TV, a broadcaster that is often critical of the military government.
“It should help the Thailand Moves Forward show’s ratings shoot through the roof.”
The rescue effort drew global media attention and hundreds of journalists, many of whom left after it wrapped up, but excitement picked up again in the usually sleepy town of Chiang Rai ahead of the boys’ much-anticipated appearance.
“The reporters are back. I had to pick up a Japanese reporter from the airport at 2 a.m.,” said tour operator Manop Netsuwan.
A cartoon of the group with its rescuers, captioned, “Our Heroes”, was displayed on a welcome screen at the airport.
“I pass the hospital where the children are staying every day and I say a prayer to thank Lord Buddha for their return,” said Duang, a noodle vendor, who asked to be identified only by her first name.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn has permitted use of the Royal Plaza, a public square in Bangkok’s old town, for a party to thank the Thai and foreign participants in the rescue, said deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.
Announcing the celebration, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had earlier told reporters, “There will be a banquet, there will be performances arranged for all groups,” without specifying a date.