'Stateless' soccer player trapped in Thai cave who speaks five languages was key in daring rescue efforts

A displaced teen who escaped conflicts in Myanmar nearly a decade ago emerged as a hero after he and his soccer team became trapped in a Thai cave, using his proficiency in multiple languages to assist in coordinating the rescue mission with divers and officials.

Adul-Sam-on was only six years old when he fled his home country. His parents slipped him out of the self-governing Wa region — well known for guerrilla warfare and drug trafficking — and into Thailand with the hopes that he would have a better life and receive an education there, the New York Times reported.

At 14, he does not have an official home and is not a citizen of any country. He’s considered “stateless,” but Adul is the top student in his class at the Ban Wiang Phan School in Mae Sai, where 20 percent of the students are similarly considered stateless.

RELATED: Members of Thai children's soccer team found alive at Tham Luang caves

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Members of Thai children's soccer team found alive at Tham Luang caves
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Members of Thai children's soccer team found alive at Tham Luang caves
Rescue teams search the Tham Luang caves for 13 members of an under-16 soccer team, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Rescue teams search the Tham Luang caves for 13 members of an under-16 soccer team, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Relatives pray outside the Tham Luang caves, where 13 members of an-under 16 soccer team are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Thai military personnel and rescuers are seen outside the Tham Luang caves, where 13 members of an-under 16 soccer team are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Soldiers read a map near the Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Chayut Setboonsarng
A military personnel is seen inside of the Tham Luang caves where 13 members of an under-16 soccer team were trapped in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Rescue workers are seen inside of the Tham Luang caves where 13 members of an under 16 soccer team were trapped in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Journalists work in Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A family member cries near Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Family members pass their time near Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Christian volunteers pray near the Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A soldier hold a map as he works near the Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
British diver Richard William Stanton arrives to the Tham Luang caves during a search for the members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Rescue workers work near the Tham Luang caves during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Thailand's Prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha clean wipes sweat from his face as he meets with family members near the Tham Luang cave complex during an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers unload aids near the Tham Luang cave complex, as a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers work in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A soldier walks in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A diver walks in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers work in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A military helicopter lands near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A military helicopter take off near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers work near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A spirit and Buddha state image are seen in front of a cave near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers work near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Divers equipment is seen near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
An ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, near Tham Luang cave complex, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Journalists try to interview a military officer near the Tham Luang cave complex, as members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach have been found alive, according to a local media's report, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
TOPSHOT - Indian schoolchildren hold placards and pictures during a prayer event for the safe rescue of young football players and their coach stuck in a cave in Thailand, in Ahmedabad on July 9, 2018. - Rescue workers dived deep inside a flooded Thai cave for a second straight day on July 9 in a treacherous bid to save a group of young footballers, with the mission chief promising more 'good news' after four of the 13 were saved. (Photo by SAM PANTHAKY / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 9: Classmates of Adul, one of the boys trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave, visit a tribute for the Wild Boars soccer team at the entrance of Ban Waingphan school on July 9, 2018 in Chiangrai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to pull the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Videos released by the Thai Navy SEAL shows the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach are in good health in Tham Luang Nang Non cave and the challenge now will be to extract the party safely. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 9: Classmates of Adul, one of the boys trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave, visit a tribute for the Wild Boars soccer team at the entrance of Ban Waingphan school on July 9, 2018 in Chiangrai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to pull the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Videos released by the Thai Navy SEAL shows the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach are in good health in Tham Luang Nang Non cave and the challenge now will be to extract the party safely. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 10: A helicopter transport boys rescued from Tham Luang Nang Non cave from a cave to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital on July 10, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to free the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Videos released by the Thai Navy SEAL shows the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach are in good health in Tham Luang Nang Non cave and the challenge now will be to extract the party safely. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
An ambulance exits from the Tham Luang cave area as operations continue for the 8 boys and their coach trapped at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 9, 2018. - Four boys among the group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on July 8 after surviving a treacherous escape, raising hopes elite divers would also save the others soon. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai policemen secure the road leading to Tham Luang cave area as rescue operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 9, 2018. - Four boys among the group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on July 8 after surviving a treacherous escape, raising hopes elite divers would also save the others soon. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
A sand art about Thailand boys rescue tragedy is seen at the Bay of Bengal Sea's eastern coast beach, creating by Indian sand artist Sudarshan Pattnik for public awareness at Puri 65 km away from the eastern Indian state Odisha's capital city Bhubaneswar, on July 10, 2018. (Photo by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Police and military personnel use umbrellas to cover around a stretcher near a helicopter and an ambulance at a military airport in Chiang Rai on July 9, 2018, as rescue operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district. - Four boys among the group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on July 8 after surviving a treacherous escape, raising hopes elite divers would also save the others soon. (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Thai soldiers walk out from the Tham Luang cave area as operations continue for the 8 boys and their coach trapped at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 9, 2018. - Four boys among the group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on July 8 after surviving a treacherous escape, raising hopes elite divers would also save the others soon. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai police monitor a press conference by officials at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital in Chiang Rai on July 10, 2018 as the rescue for a group of boys and their coach trapped in a cave in nearby Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park continues. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
A nurse adjusts her facemask at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital in Chiang Rai on July 10, 2018, as the rescue for a group of boys and their coach trapped in a cave in nearby Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park continues. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the media report from a hill near the Tham Luang cave area as the operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 10, 2018. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
An ambulance leaves the Tham Luang cave area as operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 10, 2018. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
A Thai military police salutes an ambulance leaving from the Tham Luang cave area as the operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 10, 2018. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 10: Onlookers watch and cheer as ambulances transport the 10th rescued schoolboy from a helipad nearby to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital on July 10, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to free the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Thai Navy SEALs have confirmed that the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have now all been extracted safely. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 10: Onlookers watch and cheer as ambulances transport the 10th rescued schoolboy from a helipad nearby to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital on July 10, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to free the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Thai Navy SEALs have confirmed that the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have now all been extracted safely. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 10: Onlookers watch and cheer as ambulances transport some of the rescued schoolboys from a helipad to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital on July 10, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Thai Navy SEALs confirmed on Tuesday that the 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have now all been extracted safely 17 days after they got trapped underground alive in a cave in northern Thailand. The boys of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach are to spend at least a week in a hospital in Chiang Rai Province and remain under observation due to a risk of rare infections. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
Volunteers celebrate at a makeshift press centre in Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 10, 2018, after the twelve boys and their football coach were rescued. - The final five members of a young football team were rescued from a flooded Thai cave on July 10, after spending 18 harrowing days trapped deep inside, completing an astonishing against-the-odds rescue mission that captivated the world. (Photo by Ye Aung THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman reacts near a hospital where the children's football team members are treated after being rescued, in Chiang Rai on July 10, 2018. - All 12 boys and their football coach trapped in a cave in northern Thailand for more than a fortnight have been rescued in an unprecedented three-day mission that had all the features of a blockbuster film. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Chiang Rai province acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn (2L) greets journalists during his news conference near Tham Luang cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Journalists celebrate before a news conference near Tham Luang cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
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His academic record and his soccer skills have also earned him free tuition and daily lunch.

“Stateless children have a fighting spirit that makes them want to excel,” the school’s principal, Punnawit Thepsurin, told the Times.

That would never prove more true for Adul than when he and the Wild Boars soccer team became trapped in a Tham Luang Cave in Northern Thailand. The boys had explored caves before and eagerly made their way through the winding passageways on June 23 — but heavy rainfall flooded their path to the exit and left them stranded.

The team spent ten days drinking the water that dripped from the cave walls until a pair of British divers found them taking shelter nearly three miles inside the underwater complex.

In video streamed worldwide shortly after the rescue, Adul can be seen wide-eyed and thin in the depths of the cave alongside his eleven teammates.

“I’m Adul, I’m in good health,” the 14-year-old said in Thai, offering a traditional “Wa” greeting — which signals politeness. In addition to speaking both Thai and Wa, Adul is also proficient in Burmese, Mandarin, and English.

His diverse knowledge of languages allowed him not only to speak on behalf of his team but coordinate and communicate between rescuers and the terrified soccer players.

Adul questioned divers on how long they’d been trapped and told their rescuers that getting food was their top priority. “Eat, eat, eat” one his friends piped in, prompting the teen to let him know that he’d already addressed that.

His teacher, Kru Nice, said she was not surprised to learn Adul stepped up amid the harrowing situation, telling CBS News that he’d always been a leader.

An elite team of 19 divers was tasked with extracting the young athletes and the coach from the cave, emerging with the first four boys on Sunday, another four on Monday and the final four boys and their coach around 8 p.m. local time Tuesday. All in all, they’d spent 18 days fighting for life in the cavern.

“He’s a miracle boy,” Nice said. “I’m happy he’s safe.”

The Wild Boar soccer team on Thursday remained in the hospital in good spirits. Video from inside the medical facility has shown them waving and flashing peace signs while doctors and nurses mill about checking vitals.

The first batch of boys rescued Sunday have normal heart rates and no fevers, though two of them are recovering from lung infections, said Jedsada Chokdumrongsuck, secretary of the Public Health Ministry.

Two of the four boys rescued in the second wave have mild fevers. And three people rescued on Tuesday are suffering from middle ears infection and three still have fevers, though they are easing, the secretary said.

Chiang Rai province acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn praised all involved in the rescue efforts, especially the coordination between Thai and international volunteers.

“The situation when beyond being just a rescue mission and became a symbol of unity among mankind,” he said. “Everyone worked together without discrimination of race or religion as the ultimate goal was to save the youth football team.”

With News Wire Services

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