Thai king to honour British divers who rescued boys from cave

George Styllis
British caver Vernon Unsworth, centre, worked with the Thai army and local rescue teams during the daring operation - AFP

The Thai king is to honour the British divers and other rescue teams that mounted an improbable and highly dangerous mission to save a group of young footballers from a flooded cave.

Thousands of people from around the world joined the fight against torrential rain and impenetrable darkness to locate and extricate 12 boys and their football coach from a cave in northern Thailand last summer. 

The boys went missing during a day trip to the cave to celebrate one of their birthdays. After venturing too far into the meandering complex, heavy rain fell and trapped them inside. A former Thai navy SEAL died in the rescue bid, but all of those trapped were brought out alive.

The boys were taken to hospital after their rescue and later honoured the former Navy SEAL diver Saman Kunan who died during the mission Credit: Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital and Ministry of Health/AFP

Among the 187 people listed as due to receive the highly prestigious royal award are the British divers and cavers, including John Volanthen and Richard Stanton, who were the first to find the boys nine days after their disappearance.

Also listed is Elon Musk, who publicly sparred with British caver Vernon Unsworth after the latter derided his proposal to take the boys out in a mini-submarine. 

The honours list was formally announced in the Royal Gazette, the country’s public journal of record, after receiving approval from Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

"The government recognises that those people who helped those in peril performed good deeds and deserved to be honoured,” a statement in the gazette read.

Onlookers celebrated as the boys and their coach were safely rescued Credit: AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit

The announcement did not mention a date or venue for the ceremony. During the previous king’s reign, they were held around the time of his birthday or on other special occasions.

The three-day coronation of the current king in May is thought to be a likely occasion for the ceremony.

The honoured individual is usually given a medal and has their photo taken in front of a portrait of the king.