Around 1 p.m. last Saturday, the weather was clear when Prajak Sutham, 14, Pipat Bhodi, 15, and some of their soccer teammates chained their bikes to a rail, hooked their backpacks over their shoulders, and hiked into Tham Luang Nang Non cave in the mountains of northern Thailand.
The 12 boys, members of the Wild Boars soccer team, and their 25-year-old coach, had explored the cave before.
Popular with tourists, it’s a place locals know well. For the first kilometer (0.6 miles) or so inside the cavernous entrance, limestone rock formations hug high ceilings, creating an almost amphitheater-like atmosphere.
Deeper inside, the passages narrow into places the locals warn it’s not safe to go.
For reasons unknown, the boys and their coach ventured on, deeper into the cave network, past signs that warn people not to enter during the rainy season, which usually begins in July.