COVER STORY

‘Coach’ red

Thailand Cave Search Calm, connect: The aunt of coach Chanthawong shows a picture of him with his grandmother | AP

IT SHOULD HAVE been a day like any other. After a football game, assistant coach Ekapol Chanthawong, 25, of the Moo Pa (Wild Boars), took 12 young members of the team to the expansive Tham Luang cave complex along the Thailand-Myanmar border on June 23. But, there was no let-up in the monsoon rains and the cave flooded, trapping all 13 inside. What followed was an almost two-week-long search and rescue operation, with Chanthawong in the midst of all the bustle. He was criticised—why did the coach venture into the caves when warning signs were placed all over the place? But, there was also an outpouring of support, most notably with a viral cartoon that showed the coach seated in a lotus position, straddling 12 little boars in his lap, in response to a letter he wrote, apologising to the parents for his mistake. According to reports, Chanthawong was an orphan, who enrolled at a monastery in the mountains of north Thailand before leaving it to tend to his sick grandmother and joining Moo Pa as an assistant coach. Rescue personnel made two observations: the team looked happy and calm; Chanthawong looked a lot more tired than the rest. The assistant coach leveraged his experience as a monk, teaching the rest of the kids meditation techniques to keep them calm, and kept apart most of the food for the young ones, say reports.