Songpol Kanthawong, 13, sits with his father Noppadon Kanthawong, right, to wait for news on where his soccer team and coach went missing in Thailand. Picture: AP Photo/Tassanee Vejpongsa

Mae Sai, Thailand - It could have been him, too, trapped in that dark, flooded cave.

Songpol Kanthawong, 13, hasn't been able to shake off that thought since June 23, when his teammates went missing. He is part of the same soccer team, the Moo Pa, or Wild Boars, whose coach and 12 members were exploring a vast cave complex in northern Thailand when rains hit, trapping them there for 12 days and counting.

"My mother came and picked me up right after practice," said Pone, as he is known, sitting outside a stuffy classroom at the Mae Sai Prasitsart school, where six of the 12 boys also study. "It makes me very freaked out to think that I could have gone with them."

Pone and other classmates of the boys describe them as adventurers who loved riding their bikes around the Doi Nang Non mountain range. They were not unfamiliar with the 6-mile (9.6km) Tham Luang cave system, one of Thailand's longest, having visited it several times.

Thai authorities and a team of international experts, who hail from countries as far away as Britain and China, continue to deliberate the best way to extract the boys and their coach, none of whom can swim. The drama has riveted the country and much of the outside world, prompting heated cafe discussions and social media chatter all over the world on ways the boys could be extracted.

If the boys are not extracted within days, there's a chance that monsoon rains could trap them for months. Experts worry, however, that the boys may be too weak to make the five-hour journey out of the cave, and may panic in their diving gear while making their way through the pitch-black, muddy water and narrow passages.

The Thai armed forces have made preparations for the boys' eventual return. Helicopters are standing ready at a nearby field to extract those who most urgently need medical attention, and ambulances are parked at the site.

Outside, Pone described the fateful day, which started out like any other with soccer practice. He whipped out his phone to show the last message from his 14-year-old teammate Ekarat Wongsukchan, who is now in the cave.

In the video he sent, the boys are in the same the red and blue T-shirts they were wearing when they were found Monday by two British divers, looking carefree as they ride their bikes around Mae Sai's quiet streets.

The skies were relatively clear then, he said, but an hour later a downpour began - leading to the flash floods that have trapped the boys deep in the cave system, so far in that it took divers more than five hours to reach them.

"Before that rain, there was nothing. It was just a normal day," he said.

Pone is looking forward to the day his friends are free, he said, so he can update them on World Cup results. His phone used to buzz with every goal scored, but now it is flooded with messages of goodwill and support for the team on their group chat app - which the boys in the cave, of course, have not yet been able to read.

"The messages now don't talk about the World Cup, just about how much we miss our friends," he said. "We are trying to support each other, and to remind each other that this will all be resolved."

The Washington Post