BANGKOK, July 6 (Reuters) - Round-the-clock efforts by rescue teams in Thailand to save 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a flooded cave have prompted some Thais to turn to social media to ask why they went in at all, and whether they deserve to be called heroes.
The junior soccer players, who disappeared in the Tham Luang cave in the northern province of Chiang Rai on June 23, were discovered on Monday by British divers in a partially flooded chamber.
News of the survival of the “Wild Boar” team sparked celebrations and relief among Thais transfixed by the drama, following every twist and turn of a search that has drawn worldwide attention and volunteers from Australia to Finland.
The furore provoked plenty of opinions on social media, particularly on a Facebook page called “Drama-addict” that is popular among Thais and has 2 million followers.
Some criticised what they saw as the group’s recklessness.
“There was a big sign outside the cave but they still went in. They should be scolded,” said one person on the popular website Pantip.com.
Others appeared to criticise the team’s assistant coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, who went along on the expedition after a soccer practice. But “Coach Ek” had his defenders too.
“Coach Ek acted responsibly in his capacity as an adult and a coach to take care of the children’s lives and well-being,” said one user.
Some urged forgiveness for the boys, aged between 11 and 16.
“When we were kids we weren’t much better than this ... we probably also did things that disappointed our parents. We should not praise them but forgive them,” said one user.
There has been little official criticism of the boys’ actions while rescuers struggle to decide how best to extricate them from the flooded cave complex, as most of them cannot swim.
Last week, Damrong Hanpakdeeniyom, the head of the forest park where the cave complex is located, said visitors were usually barred from venturing in more than about 700 m (2,300 ft).
“Inside it is very dark ... and if it rains between July and December then we close it,” Damrong said. “This group went in further than allowed.”
Other Thais commented on the expanding scope of the rescue, which risks becoming unmanageable as more volunteers turn up and the media spotlight grows.
It could take weeks to bring the team to safety, and the death of a volunteer diver on Friday underscored the risks.
“You went in and in the end, other people have to run around trying to find you,” a user posted on Pantip.com, in comments that aimed at the group. “Soldiers, SEALS and villagers to pump water for you.”
The criticism spurred the Department of Mental Health to beg Thais not to take sides.
“The families should focus on proper parenting while society should not judge whether this was wrong or right but take this as an opportunity to learn,” it said in a statement, promising counselling for the boys once freed. (Additional reporting and writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre in BANGKOK Editing by Darren Schuettler and Clarence Fernandez)