Why the ‘heroic’ soccer coach trapped in the Thai cave might be last to be rescued.

With the third operation underway to rescue the remaining boys trapped in a northern Thailand cave, it appears 25-year-old assistant soccer coach, Ekkapol Chanthawong, may be the last to be rescued.

The first two operations, carried out on Sunday and Monday, involved four boys being rescued at a time, with two divers assisting each of them.

Ahead of Tuesday’s operation, rescue chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told media, “for safety, the best number is four”. This was taken to mean that the last four boys would be safely rescued from the cave, leaving behind their coach to wait another day.

Later on Tuesday, however, there were cheers at a press conference when Osottanakorn delivered the information that the divers were now planning to bring back the four boys as well as their coach.

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Based on reports of Ekkapol’s character, it would be a fair assumption that if anything were to go wrong, or rescuing the group of five became too difficult, it would be him who would wait to be rescued last.

Until three years ago, he was a monk, spending a decade in a Buddhist temple learning to meditate, abstaining from alcohol and disseminating Buddhist teachings.

Rescuers say he is loved by the boys, and that in the 10 days before they were discovered, he ensured they huddled together to stay warm. Now, 17 days later, Ekkapol is physically the weakest, because he has given almost all his food to the boys in his care.

It has also been reported that he has taught the boys to meditate in an effort to remain calm – a skill that has been critical in their evacuations with divers which involves a four hour escape route, most of it in pitch black conditions, with some points as narrow as 38cm.

Inside the rescue of the eight boys. Post continues after video.

A close friend of the soccer team, 17-year-old Auttaporn Khamheng, told Fairfax“I love Ake [Ekkapol], he’s the one I trust, he’s the one who takes care of all the kids.

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

“I’m worried he might blame himself, he’s the one I worry about the most.”

A letter from inside the cave confirms this speculation. The only words from Ekkapol so far are written on a piece of yellowing paper that reads: “I want to say thanks for all the support, and I want to apologise.”

People around the world, however, are hoping that today, four boys and their soccer coach will be rescued, leaving no one behind.

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