HM the King awards Tham Luang cave rescuers

The awards were well deserved. His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun has conferred a noble order on 187 people who participated in the rescue of 13 young soccer players trapped by floodwaters in the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand last July.

The 187 rescue personnel, both Thais and foreigners, received the Most Admirable Order of the Direkgunabhorn. The late King Bhumibol Adjulyadej established the title in 1991 to be bestowed upon those who have rendered devotional services to the Kingdom of Thailand. The title Direkgunabhorn roughly translates as “Noble order of abundance and quality.”

The announcement in the Royal Gazette read that the government recognizes that those people who helped others in peril performed good deeds and deserved to be honored.

Even heroes, however, have to clean up after themselves. And so last week over 200 members of Thailand’s Navy SEALS returned to the cave in Chiang Rai where they rescued the young soccer players to stage a cleanup operation and retrieve piles of equipment they had to leave behind because of floodwaters.

SEAL commander Rear Admiral Apakorn Yukongkaew said the time was right to re-enter the Tham Luang cave because floodwaters had completely receded. They had checked the cave in January to find parts of it still inaccessible. Last July, the coach and 12 members of the youth soccer team named the Wild Boars had trekked deep inside Tham Luang only to find themselves trapped when a flash monsoon storm inundated passageways.

Their plight resulted in a huge international rescue operation that included experienced cave divers from Great Britain and Australia, the Thai Navy SEALS, members of the United States military, and personnel support from about a dozen other countries. Their successful extraction of the boys in the face of long odds inspired people around the world and was the leading “feel-good news story” of the year.

One Navy SEAL, however, perished during the life-saving mission. Saman Kuman lost his life when he ran out of oxygen while diving through the passageways.

Before entering the cave last week, the 200 members of the SEALS prayed before a local shrine.

Rescuers left a large amount of equipment inside Tham Luang, including oxygen tanks, ropes, electrical wires, communication radios as well as various water pumps, and other items. The first retrieval mission lasted for three days, and the team will return at the end of this month for another three days during which they believe they will be able to remove all equipment from the underground passageways.