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Coach of Thai soccer team saved from cave tells Ellen DeGeneres: 'They weren't scared'

The coach and 12 boys from the Thai soccer team rescued in July after 17 days trapped in a cave spoke with Ellen DeGeneres about how they survived.
/ Source: TODAY

The coach and 12 boys from the Thai youth soccer team that spent 17 nights trapped in a cave before being rescued this summer spoke with Ellen DeGeneres about how they survived an ordeal that gripped the world.

In their first group interview since the rescue in July, head coach Ekkapol Ake Chantawong, 25, and the players from the Wild Boars soccer team detailed how they remained calm after seasonal rains flooded the exits from a cave in Chiang Rai, in northern Thailand.

"They weren't scared and they always had hope,'' Chantawong said through a translator. "They knew if they didn't come out, eventually someone would have to come in and get them out anyway."

The team had only planned to be in the cave for an hour and instead became trapped for more than two weeks.

It took eight hours for the 13 to be rescued by a team of divers led by Thai navy SEALS. One player told DeGeneres that they drank water that was running down the sides of the cave to survive because the groundwater was too dirty.

The team also used meditation to help make it through. Only weeks after their rescue they underwent training to become novice Buddhist monks.

"When they meditate, they remain calm so they can conserve energy while in the cave,'' Chantawong said.

They said they usually slept an hour here or there, but rarely got any continuous sleep. Four players had birthdays during the period when they were trapped, but they didn't celebrate them.

Since most of them didn't know how to swim, they were sedated before divers brought them to safety through the flooded passages in the cave complex. Chantawong said none of them remembered actually being rescued after being sedated.

They also had no idea their plight had made international headlines.

"Inside the cave they didn't know anything, but they knew a lot of people were watching and supporting them when they got to the hospital,'' Chantawong said.

DeGeneres also surprised them with a visit from one of their favorite soccer players, LA Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimović. He invited them to a practice with the team and gave them VIP tickets to an upcoming game.

"These kids, I thought I was brave, but these kids, this team is more braver than me and they show the collective teamwork and patience and belief in (each) other,'' Ibrahimović said on the show. "This is probably the best team in the world."