Thai royal honors bestowed on Australian doctors for cave rescue

Thai royal honors bestowed on Australian doctors for cave rescue

The Associated Press

Two Australian doctors received royal honors in Thailand in April 2019 for helping rescue 12 members of a boys soccer team and their assistant coach from a flooded cave in 2018. The two men said they are looking forward to a reunion with the youngsters they helped save.

Richard Harris and Craig Challen accepted the award at a ceremony presided over by Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Four Australian officials involved with the rescue effort were also honored. (Pictured: Richard Harris, left, an Australian member of the Thai cave rescue team, shakes hands with Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha after receiving the Member of the Most Admirable Order of the Direkgunabhorn during the royal decoration ceremony at the Royal Thai Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, on April 19, 2019.)

Both highly skilled divers, the doctors played key roles in rescuing members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach from the cave complex in Chiang Rai province in July 2018.

They said before the award ceremony they were looking forward to going to the northern province to see how the boys are faring.

“That’s really exciting for us to go and see them and make sure they’re well and see how they’re doing after the rescue,” Harris said. “Hopefully, we will find them in good shape.”

A mixed team of Thais and expert divers from a number of countries combined in the dramatic search-and-rescue mission carried out after the team went missing when heavy rain flooded the Tham Luang cave complex.

The drama, which lasted 18 days, gripped the attention of the world.

Harris and Challen, who in January 2019 were jointly named Australians of the Year, said that should it ever happen again, they were ready to reprise their operation.

“We have a little bit more experience now,” Challen said. “We seem to be the world record holders in cave-diving rescues now.”

They also joked about one of the British rescue team members, Josh Bratchley, who recently had to be rescued himself from a cave in the United States, and said they had left humorous messages on his Facebook page.

“Well, it’s been a matter of some hilarity with us really. I’m glad it wasn’t us because that would have been very professionally embarrassing for us, I can say,” Challen said. “We are looking forward to speaking to Josh and getting the true story.”

Their final message was one for all young people: Don’t let what happened to the Wild Boars scare you from having fun.

“Those boys and the coach were extraordinarily unlucky to have been caught out in the cave,” Harris said. “I hope that doesn’t stop people enjoying adventures, and kids really need to do those sorts of things.”