Thailand has honoured foreign volunteers, including two British cave divers, who took part in the dramatic and marathon rescue mission to free 13 Mu Pa Academy football club members from Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai.
For those who wished to stay on in Thailand after the mission, the Royal Household Bureau, Foreign Affairs Ministry and Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) will host sightseeing trips in Chiang Rai and Bangkok
For others who must return to their homelands, Thai authorities will sponsor a single trip back to Thailand within the next five years.
TAT will give them a “Thailand Elite Card” membership, so they could enjoy a series of associated privileges.
Foreign volunteers, reportedly numbering over 100 and hailing from countries near and far, have been streaming out of the area over the past few days since the rescue mission was officially completed with the team extracted from the cave and safely in hospital.
Many had been at the site for up to two weeks after the Mu Pa (Wild Boar) team went missing in the cave on June 23.
At Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith joined Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat to see off two British cave diving experts, John Volanthen and Jason Mallison.
Volanthen is well know for his expertise in cave diving and eagerness to volunteer for rescues, while Mallison is a member of the Cave Diving Group, Britain’s oldest amateur association of subterranean divers.
Volanthen and Rick Stanton famously discovered the boys stranded on a mud-covered rock ledge at so-called Noen Nom Sao on July 2, 10 days after they went missing.
Arkhom and Weerasak gave a heroes’ send-off for Volanthen and Mallison. Both Britons travelled from Chiang Rai to Suvarnabhumi Airport and then boarded a flight to London. The Cabinet ministers gave them certificates of honour and expressed officials thanks from Thailand for their dedication that resulted in the rescue mission’s success. Both had played leading roles in planning and mapping the operation to secure freedom for the boys.
The ministers also presented them with drawings of themselves and John Harper, a fellow volunteer diver who had already left for London to make a doctor’s appointment. Harper oversaw the whole operation to help the boys.
Other foreign divers from a hand-ful of nations left Thailand for their home countries yesterday including Stanton, Christopher Jewell, John Clayton, Gary Mitchell, Connor Roe, Jim Warny and Joshua Bratchley.
Meanwhile, eight volunteers from China’s Peaceland Foundation have decided to visit Bangkok before going home. Wang Ke, chief of the team, said they were happy that the mission was completed successfully and the boys were safe.
During the operation, he said, they received excellent cooperation from the Thai authorities and wished to thank Thais who had thanked the team for their kindness.
In the future, if Thailand needs any help, his team is more than willing to come and help, said Wang.
Wang said that he wished for all the Mu Pa boys to work hard on their studies and have a happy life. His team wished to express condolences on the passing of Saman Kunun, a former Navy SEAL who died during the operation. “He is the hero of Thailand,” Wang said.