The 12 boys and their football coach rescued from a flooded cave in northern Thailand left hospital on Wednesday to make their first public appearance.

The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, were escorted out of the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital where they have stayed since last week's international effort to extricate them from a flooded cave complex where they had been trapped for 17 days.

The group had planned to explore the Tham Luang cave complex after football practice on June 23, but a monsoon downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.

Divers found them on July 2, and an intricate plan was hatched to get the boys to safety. After a three-day rescue, organised by Thai Navy Seals and a global team of cave-diving experts, all 13 members of the team were brought to safety by July 10.

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The rescue efforts drew global media attention and the excitement picked up again ahead of the boys' much-anticipated media appearance, which was broadcast on national TV.

More than 100 questions were sent in for the boys and their representatives, including their doctors and psychologists.

All 12 boys and their coach were at the public appearance. The three Thai Navy Seals who stayed in the cave with the boys also attended.

Thai rescue teams arrange the water pumping system at the entrance to a flooded cave complex where 12 boys and their soccer coach were trapped for 17 days. Photo / Supplied
Thai rescue teams arrange the water pumping system at the entrance to a flooded cave complex where 12 boys and their soccer coach were trapped for 17 days. Photo / Supplied

The appearance began with a video clip of the boys thanking medical staff at the hospital, and being congratulated for their recovery.

Health officials then addressed the crowd said the boys' physical strength had returned, they were talking more, and were ready to go home.

A psychologist said they had done many activities to test the teams' mental state, and they were cleared to be physically and mentally strong enough to return to normal life.
The boys were said to have been very good, and well-behaved while in the care of the hospital.

When the boys were asked about the moment the Navy Seals found them in the cave, Adul Sam-on, 14, nicknamed Dul, said some of the first words exchanged were "hello" and "how many of you are there?".

When the divers found out all 13 of the team were present in the cave, the rescuer said "brilliant".

Dul recalled telling the divers they had been in the cave for 10 days. He said their brains were" very slow" at the time.

The team revealed that when they entered the cave on June 23 there was some water in the cave which they had to swim through. Earlier reports that boys could not swim were said to be incorrect.

Once the team had spent over an hour in the cave, they agreed they should go back, but when the tried to return they found they couldn't get out.

The boys said that was a very scary moment, and one mentioned thinking of his mother.

Thai rescue teams walk inside cave complex where 12 boys and their soccer coach went missing. Photo / Supplied
Thai rescue teams walk inside cave complex where 12 boys and their soccer coach went missing. Photo / Supplied

As it got dark, the coach advised them to try to dig a way out in a bid to get rid of the water, but when that didn't work they were told to get some sleep in hopes of the water receding in the morning.

They said on the first night they prayed before they went to sleep.

The team said they were always watching the time, looking for ways to escape, and looking for sources of water.

It wasn't until two days had passed that they started feeling weak and the coach advised them to stay close together to conserve energy and heat.

By day 10, the day the divers discovered them, they described being very tired, weak and hungry.

In order not to think about food, they drank water to make themselves feel full.

During the day the boys said they took turn digging holes. Their only source of energy was water they found in the cave.

The boys said they felt happy towards their rescuers, and gained a close bond during their time inside the cave.

One boy said a Navy Seal felt like his Dad because of the nicknames he called him.

When told of the news of the death of one of the Navy Seals, the boys said they were shocked and felt guilty about being the cause of his death.

They presented letters and a drawing they had pieced together for Lieutenant Commander Saman Kunan.

They sent their condolences to Kunan's family, while one boy said, "I want to say thank you. Thank you from the depth of my heart."

When asked what lessons they learned from their experience, the boys said they would use their lives wisely and do things more carefully.

One said he had learned to not live life carelessly, and promised to be a good person and a good citizen.

They said their dream of being professional footballers had not changed, and that the experience had made them stronger and given them more endurance and tolerance.

Four of the boys also said they would now like to be Navy Seals.

The team said they were looking forward to going home to regular comforts and their favourite foods, but they all took time to publically apologise to their parents for the ordeal they had put them through.

The boys spoke for about half an hour on air, and ended their appearance with a prayer.

- With Reuters and the Guardian.