Aussie doctors bestowed Thai royal honors for cave rescue

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BANGKOK (AP) — Two Australian doctors were given royal honors in Thailand on Friday for helping rescue a boys soccer team from a flooded cave and said they are looking forward to a reunion with the youngsters they helped save.

Richard Harris and Craig Challen were given 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.

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 last July.

They said before the award ceremony they were looking forward to going to the northern province Monday 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.”

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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 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 this week 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 off 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.”

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