Thai cave rescue Aussies honoured: ‘We just went cave diving for a few days’

Australian divers Richard Harris and Craig Challen have been honoured with bravery awards for their role in the historic rescue of an amateur soccer team from a cave in Thailand.

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove honoured nine Australians who helped rescue the 12 boys and their 25-year-old  coach trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave for 17 days, the first time the group has been recognised together after assisting in the rescue.

The friends – lauded for their strategy to extract the group safely through a four-kilometre journey – were honoured with the Star of Courage medal, recognition for acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril.

The award is Australia’s second highest bravery decoration.

Just two blokes with an unusual hobby: Richard Harris and Craig Challen.
Just two blokes with an unusual hobby: Richard Harris and Craig Challen.

Richard Harris

Dr Harris, an Adelaide-based anaesthetist, emerged from the successful rescue effort to learn his father had died.

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Members of the Australian Federal Police Special Response Group Justin Bateman, Kelly Boers, Benjamin Cox, Matthew Fitzgerald, Robert James and Christopher Markcrow, as well as Royal Australian Navy clearance diving team member Troy Eather, received Bravery Medals, recognition for acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances.

The nine also received the Medal of the Order of Australia in the ceremony at Government House in Canberra.

Dr Harris said he felt embarrassed and shocked to have received the honour.

Careful experiment

Thai army soldiers return from Tham Luang cave during the rescue operation.
Thai army soldiers return from Tham Luang cave during the rescue operation.

Kate Geraghty

He described efforts to sedate the team members for their extraction as careful experiment, crafted using advice from specialists around the world.

“We just went cave diving for a few days and we were able to help get the kids out,” he said.

“Honestly, the media storm and these awards have been completely unexpected and we’re just trying to emphasise how big a part so many people played in this.

“We’re not quite sure why the spotlight has shone on us as a pair. It’s all quite exciting but I think I just need to get back to work, stop my head swelling and start to relax again.”

Members of the Wild Boars soccer team in hospital after their historic rescue.
Members of the Wild Boars soccer team in hospital after their historic rescue.

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Dr Challen said the pair were two blokes with “an unusual hobby” who were lucky to be able to assist with the rescue.

“We knew from the time we got there that it was a pretty desperate situation and the first boy came through and he was still alive and still breathing. That was one of the best moments,” he said.

“I don’t think we can get any graver about it than we were at that moment.”

The pair are planning a recreational dive together in coming days.

Selflessness and courage

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the group had been selflessly courageous.

“You formed an international human chain, and step by careful step the Wild Boars and their coach were carried to safety,” he said.

“It was an extraordinary international effort. If only leaders were as collaborative as you were. You held up an example to us all.”

Sir Peter told the ceremony the nine had shown selflessness and courage, among the most important human qualities cherished by Australians.

“We think you were remarkable, skilful, tireless, compassionate and courageous. Your nation is so proud of you,” he said.

Australia’s ambassador to Thailand and the Thai envoy to Canberra attended the ceremony, along with the acting chief of the Australian Defence Force and acting Australian Federal Police Commissioner.

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