Thai Cave Rescue: Soccer Coach The 'Hero' Of Group

"I’m sure he has done everything for all of the kids in the cave"

Millions around the world are watching every step of the rescue mission to bring up the Wild Boars soccer team from the Tam Luang cave, with high praise showered on the divers and others involved in the tricky operation.

But the 25-year-old assistant coach of the team is being hailed as the unsung hero of the ordeal, with details emerging of how he has kept the young boys calm and safe during nearly a fortnight underground.

The Wild Boar soccer team and their coach have been trapped for ten days in a cave complex in northern Thailand. Photo: Facebook.

Ekaphol Chantawong, known as Ake, is the assistant coach of the Wild Boars. He's also a former monk. Having trained in a monastery for years, after both his parents died when he was at a young age, Ake left the priesthood to look after his grandmother.

Authorities have said Ake has been key in keeping the boys alive and relatively healthy to this point, forgoing his own portions of food and drink so his young squad could eat.

Photo: Thai Navy SEALS.

“I love Ake, he’s the one I trust, he’s the one who takes care of all of the kids,”  Auttaporn Khamheng, a friend of one of the trapped boys, told Fairfax.

“To survive, they are all heroes but the biggest hero is the coach. I’m sure he has done everything for all of the kids in the cave."

It is also said Ake taught the boys to meditate and conserve energy.

Bicycles left by the missing football players lean against a railing at the entrance of the Tham Luang cave (EPA/PONGMANAT TASIRI)

"The coach is advising them that they need to lie down, of course [try] meditation, try not to move their bodies too much, try not to waste their energy," Thai government spokesman Lt Gen Werachon Sukondhapatipak told The Guardian.

"By meditation, they stay conscious all the time, so their mind will not be wandering around.”

In a letter written by the trapped team, delivered to parents and family on the surface, Ake sent his regret.

"I promise to take the very best care of the kids... I want to say thanks for all the support, and I want to apologise," he wrote.

(EPA/ROYAL THAI NAVY)

However, even parents have showered the assistant coach with praise.

"If he didn't go with them, what would have happened to my child?" one of the boys' mothers told a Thai TV interview.

"When he comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you."

Reports paint a picture of Ake as a devoted, loving soccer coach who encouraged his team members to do well at school, even offering rewards of new soccer gear for good academic grades.