- Ekapol Chanthawong, 25, is the coach of the Thai soccer team who was trapped in the Tham Luang cave for 17 days.
- Parents are not likely to sue Chanthawong over his leading their children into the cave, Thai lawyers told Business Insider. But one local authority suggested they may seek a lawsuit.
- Chanthawong spent a decade in a Buddhist monastery, and parents are crediting him for keeping their children calm and safe during the two-week ordeal.
For 17 days, 12 Thai boys, ages 11 to 16, were trapped in a cave in northern Thailand. They were there with Ekapol Chanthawong, 25, the assistant coach of the boys’ soccer team.
But heavy rains fell, trapping the team in the cave for about two weeks. On Tuesday, all 12 of the boys and Chanthawong were finally freed from the cave after several days of rescue operations.
Despite the dangerous situation the boys were in, lawyers from Thailand have told Business Insider they doubt that Chanthawong will face charges.
“I personally believe that the coach would not face criminal charges,” said Chatnarin Bumpenwattana, an associate lawyer at JTJB International Lawyers, a law firm based in Bangkok.
“All parents would be very likely to forgive the coach for this action,” another Bangkok-based lawyer said.
Thai law also takes a defendant’s intent into consideration, a criminal-law attorney named Ananchai Chaiyadech told the Thai newspaper Khao Sod last week. And the coach doesn’t appear to have intended to put the boys in danger.
“The mood in Thailand is very protective towards the assistant coach,” a US-based lawyer who worked in Thailand for an international development organization told Business Insider. “Instead of the parents and the public going to a place of finding someone to blame, they might support and appreciate the assistant coach in an equally unreserved way.”
Charges are still possible, but unlikely
The chief of the police station whose jurisdiction includes the cave said he hadn’t ruled out charging the coach, Khao Sod reported.
“We have to study the matter carefully first,” Col. Komsan Saard-an, the chief of Mae Sai Police Station, told Khao Sod.
Reuters reported that many Thais had been critical of the coach and what they say was he and the boys’ recklessness – particularly as international volunteers were involved in the rescue.
“There was a big sign outside the cave but they still went in,” one person wrote on the Thai website Pantip, according to Reuters. “They should be scolded.”
Thailand’s prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, told Thai media the emphasis should be on a safe rescue and ensuring the team’s psychological recovery, USA Today reported.
“At first, he got lots of blame,” Bumpenwattana told Business Insider. “But the news appeared that he properly took care of the children and … that he gave his food to the children, so there is not much anger against him right now.”
Videos captured by Thai navy SEAL divers and disseminated to the media last week show the boys in good spirits after rescuers found them in the cave, though they appeared weak. Some parents have told news outlets that they attributed the children’s calmness to the coach.
“If he didn’t go with them, what would have happened to my child?” one mother told Thai television, as reported by News Corp Australia. “When he comes out, we have to heal his heart.
“My dear Ek,” she said, using Chanthawong’s nickname, “I would never blame you.”
‘He loves those boys very much’
Chanthawong had a harrowing childhood – when he was 10, an illness swept his hometown in northern Thailand, leaving his 7-year-old brother, mother, and father dead, News Corp Australia reported.
Umporn Sriwichai, his aunt, told The Australian that Chanthawong was “a sad and lonely little boy” after the death of his parents and brother, according to News Corp Australia. He lived in a Buddhist monastery, keeping to Thai tradition, for 10 years, starting from age 12.
“He taught the boys in the cave to do their meditation,” Sriwichai told The Australian. “The first time the English divers found them, the boys were meditating. The students told the rescuers that Akeake” – another of Chanthawong’s nicknames – “taught them how to do meditation to preserve the energy in their bodies.”
She continued: “I know he would be keeping the boys calm and happy. He loves those boys very much because he lost his father when he was very young.”