THE ASSISTANT coach of Mu Pa Academy, Ekkapon Chantawongse, 25, is the eldest of the 13 footballers who have been trapped in the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai since June 23.
The team members were found safe after spending 10 days in the heavily flooded cave after marathon rescue efforts. Authorities are still considering the best and safest way to rescue them.
Some netizens blamed “Coach Ek”, saying he has to take responsible for the incident as he was the eldest of the group who should have prevented the group from entering the cave. He took the boys inside the cave despite there being a warning sign in front of the entrance.
However, some netizens argued that it was the sudden flash floods that had led to the group getting trapped, forcing them to retreat deeper into the cave.
The warning sign in front of the cave cautioned visitors against entering the cave during the rainy season from July to November. The team went in on June 23. It was not their first visit.
Despite differences of opinion, most people now see the coach as the main reason why the boys survived the ordeal.
It has been revealed that he advised the boys to use flashlights one at a time to make sure they had a light source for as long as possible.
He taught them to drink clean water that seeped through the roof of the cave, not the floodwater, after they had run out of drinking water. He also told the boys not to move a lot, and asked them to meditate to save as much energy as possible.
These were experiences he had reportedly gained during his monkhood when he stayed in caves.
There is concern that Ekkapon may experience severe guilt pangs and will blame himself for the ordeal and see himself as the cause of the multinational rescue operation.
During the video clip of the first sighting of the missing boys, Ekkapon apparently hid himself in the back, as he was not seen. The second video clip of the group that shot each member one by one showed him looking considerably weaker when compared with his previous photos.
That has raised concerns that the coach might be suffering from feelings of guilt.
However, the boys’ parents, who are waiting to see their children come out of the cave, told media that they did not blame the coach for the incident.
A mother said, “Coach Ek, you should not blame yourself for what happened. We all know that you are kind and always have the good heart to help our children.”
Another mother said in tears that her boy had survived this ordeal because of the coach. “I was worried that my boy was missing. What comforted me was that coach Ek is with him.”
Thawatchai Thaikhiew, the deputy permanent secretary for Justice, said he was worried that the coach may consider it his fault and may not forgive himself. This could lead to depression.
“I ask all Thai people to send him moral support for our hero coach Ek. If anyone meets him, please tell him that he is the one whom I would love and hug the most,” he said in his Facebook post.
From a video clip shot during the first encounter between British divers and the missing group, people could see the boys’ surprisingly good spirits although they appeared to be exhausted.
Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osotanakorn earlier said that the boys were stronger than expected.