April 19, 2019 / 11:25 AM / a month ago

Thai king confers awards on two Australian divers for rescue of cave boys

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Two Australian cave divers who were instrumental in the rescue last year of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave received on Friday a royal honour from King Maha Vajiralongkorn in a ceremony in Bangkok.

Richard Harris, Australian member of the Thai cave rescue team shakes hands with Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, next to Craig Challen after receiving the Member of the Most Admirable Order of the Direkgunabhorn award at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, April 19, 2019. Thailand Government House/Handout via REUTERS

The “Wild Boars” soccer team, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach became trapped on June 23 while exploring the cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai when a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels.

A 17-day effort to rescue them gripped the world with experts from various countries volunteering to help.

Richard Harris and Craig Challen were members of the main rescue team, made up of 13 foreign divers and five Thai navy divers, that brought the boys and their coach out to safety.

They received the Most Admirable Order of the Direkgunabhorn at Bangkok’s Government House before meeting Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in their first trip back to Thailand since the rescue.

They will travel to Chiang Rai and return to the Tham Luang cave on Monday to meet the boys and their coach.

“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.

Harris, a physician specializing in anaesthesia, was responsible for sedating the boys before they were brought out one-by-one on a rescue stretcher through flooded tunnels.

The pair were in January named Australians of the Year, one of Australia’s highest honours.

King Vajiralongkorn has conferred various honours on 187 people in connection with the rescue, 113 of them foreigners including Tesla Inc Chief Executive Elon Musk, who were involved in the effort, according to the Royal Gazette in March.

A former Thai navy diver died during the rescue.

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Robert Birsel

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