Nine Australians who helped rescue young footballers trapped in a Thai cave were given state honours Tuesday, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declaring their bravery an inspiration to the world.
The 12 “Wild Boars” players and their coach were stuck deep in the flooded cave for up to 18 days before Thai Navy SEALs and international cave diving experts rescued them in a highly risky operation that captivated global attention.
Anaesthetist Richard Harris and his diving partner Craig Challen, both cave diving specialists, played key roles in the rescue and were awarded the Star of Courage, Australia’s second-highest bravery decoration.
Six police officers and a navy officer were given the third-highest decoration, the Bravery Medal.
“You made us so proud, selflessly courageous, superbly, professionally competent. We could not have better ambassadors showing the best of our Australian values than you,” Turnbull said at the medal ceremony in Canberra.
“You saved those young men and as you did so inspired not just your own nation, our nation — but holding its breath, and praying for your success — you inspired the whole world.”
Harris was specifically requested by experts to help in the dramatic rescue and was reportedly the last person to leave the cave, credited with monitoring the boys’ health and sedating them so they would not panic during the extraction.
The children aged from 11 to 16 and their coach spent nine days in darkness until two British divers found them — before the drawn-out rescue that saw the last person leave the cave on July 10.