Cave rescuers Craig Challen (L) and Richard Harris (C) say they’re just ordinary blokes.They’re just two ordinary blokes with an unusual hobby who happened to pull off the most daring rescue in living memory, captivating people across the world.
Cave diving mates Richard Harris and Craig Challen, along with seven other Australian heroes, have been honoured for their efforts in rescuing 12 boys and their soccer coach from deep inside a flooded Thai cave.
Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove presented the nine with bravery medals and Australia’s highest civilian honour during a ceremony in Canberra on Tuesday.
After receiving the Star of Courage, Dr Harris and Dr Challen played down their life-saving roles, admitting they were embarrassed and shocked by the global attention.
“We’re two ordinary blokes with an unusual hobby not many people have heard of,” retired vet Dr Challen told reporters at Government House.
The veteran cave divers played a crucial role in the international rescue operation, with Dr Harris’ experience as an anaesthetist critical.
The precious lives of the boys were in their hands.
Dr Harris described meting out sedation to the malnourished, dehydrated youngsters in the back of a cave as the most frightening part of the week but insisted he was never in peril and did not feel courageous.
“We went cave diving for a few days and helped get the kids out,” Dr Harris said.
He assessed the boys’ conditions before giving them the medical all clear to undertake the perilous mission out of the cave and advised authorities on the best way to bring them out.
The pair feared for the boys, with monsoon rain expected to trap them underground for several months.
“I can’t tell you how bleak the outlook was for those kids in there,” Dr Challen said.
“Just overjoyed that it all worked out okay because it could have easily not.”
Sir Peter lauded the courage and selflessness of the nine as he presented them with Order of Australia medals.
“We think you were remarkable, skilful, tireless, compassionate and courageous,” Sir Peter said.
“Your nation is so proud of you. Today, Australia salutes you.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told them: “You made us proud – superbly, professionally competent – we could not have better ambassadors showing the best of our Australian values than you.”
Bravery medals were awarded to navy Chief Petty Officer Troy Eather, and Australian Federal Police officers Acting Station Sergeant Robert James, Leading Senior Constable Kelly Boers, Detective Leading Senior Constable Benjamin Cox, First Constable Matthew Fitzgerald, Senior Constable Justin Bateman and Detective Leading Senior Constable Chris Markcrow.
The men were deployed at short notice, spending long days diving kilometres through the caves to move hundreds of air tanks, pumps, pipes and cables as part of the extraordinary rescue effort.
They knowingly put themselves in life-threatening danger, refusing to give up until each trapped boy was gently shepherded to safety and the warm embrace of family.
The prime minister said it was impossible to overstate how dangerous the task was and how many were inspired by the divers.
“Yours was a mission of practical love to save the lives of others, weaker, younger, more vulnerable,” he said.