As rescue teams worked to finally free 12 members of a youth soccer team and their coach from a cave in northern Thailand this week, local schoolchildren were eagerly awaiting the boys’ return.
In an exclusive sneak peek at a special edition of ABC News’ 20/20, Matt Gutman speaks with Carl Henderson, an English teacher at a local school in the boy’s community, who says his students have been keeping the seat of one of the missing boys warm as they prayed for their rescue.
“His best friend went and sat in his chair and said, ‘Okay, I’m gonna sit here until he comes back,’ ” Henderson recalls. “Everyday.”
The children made a card for the trapped boy and on a class white board, wrote “We miss our friend so much.”
On Tuesday, Thai Navy SEALs confirmed that the entire group had been safely rescued after being trapped in the Tham Luang Nang cave since June 23. The Wild Boars soccer team had been exploring the cave complex when heavy rains and rising floodwaters blocked their path, leaving them trapped inside.
The cave is nearly six miles long, according to the AFP. And the structure is one of the toughest, longest caves in the Asian country.
Officials launched a massive search for the boys last month after a park officer saw the boys’ backpacks, bicycles and soccer cleats abandoned outside the cave, CNN reported. The structure was off-limits at the time. Police said they believe the team, ages 11 to 16, crawled into the cave through a narrow 15-meter long channel.
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The team was initially found on July 2, and authorities grappled with how to safely free them from the cave.
The first four boys were finally pulled from the cave on Sunday. On Monday, four more were brought to safety.
Officials told the New York Times that all of the children have received vaccinations and are being treated for antibiotics. Two of them may have pneumonia, Jesada Chokedamrongsuk, Thailand’s secretary for public health told the publication.
Jesada said that the boys are all in different stages of recovery and although the first group rescued have adjusted to normal lighting, the others still have to wear sunglasses.
ABC News’ special edition of 20/20, Triumph in Thailand, airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. (ET).