He waited 17 days on mountain for son to be freed. On his way down, he thanked everyone he saw
Inside, his 14-year-old son, Akarat Wongsukchan, was trapped with his 11 team mates and soccer coach.As each excruciating day passed, he worried about how Akarat could survive, how he would cope in the dark, what he would eat and drink. But on Tuesday night, Wongsukchan walked the path down from the mountain, those questions fading into the dark of the night behind him.Speaking exclusively to CNN from the cave complex, Wongsukchan said he was "so happy and appreciative" of the international rescue effort that helped to free his son and the Wild Boars soccer team. For nearly three weeks, Wongsukchan said he tried to "chip in" in any way he could, focusing his attention on supporting the teams.Now, Wongsukchan's main focus is to hug his son who, along with the rest of his team and coach, is recovering at the hospital in Chiang Rai."I want to hug him… and I want to tell him that I'm happy," a glassy-eyed Wongsukchan said.As he left the complex, Wongsukchan stopped to thank each person he passed along the way. More than 100 specialists and thousands of support staff were involved in the rescue effort that lasted nearly three weeks and transfixed Thailand and the wider world.The operation had started as a local search for the missing 13 who had become trapped when rising flood water cut them off deep inside the cave on June 23. But the rescue turned into a complex international operation, eventually involving experts from around the world who flew in to the northern Thai province to help.On Tuesday, the twelfth boy and his coach were the last to be rescued as part of the complicated three-day effort to extricate the team.Wongsukchan revealed that his son had been freed from the cave the night before, but he had decided to stay back with the families whose children had yet to be rescued. He knew how agonizing those final moments of the rescue would feel to them. "I promised the other parents, the five, I will wait and come out together. I'm not going to leave them. We're going to go together," Wongsukchan said. The remaining boys and coach were transported to the nearby hospital Tuesday evening, where they joined eight of their teammates who are recuperating after being rescued Sunday and Monday.The last of the group to emerge from the cave were four Navy SEALs, including a doctor who stayed with the team for a week after their discovery. Medics are due to give an update on everyone's condition at a media briefing on Wednesday morning.
Steve George reported from Thailand and Kara Fox wrote from CNN. Lalinda Siripornmanut contributed to this report.