Robert Harper oversaw the operation to save the group, trapped by flooding in the Tham Luang cave system in Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, this summer, in efforts that made worldwide news.
Harper, who appeared at the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s stand on Tuesday, was part of a seven-strong British team of divers who worked with Thai special forces and experts from around the globe to free the children, who were finally rescued after 18 days underground.
Speaking to TTG@WTM, Weerasak Kowsurat Thailand’s minister of tourism and sport said Harper and his colleagues had shown “huge courage”.
“They answered the call to help even though they knew how dangerous it was and with no remuneration. They did not care for their safety but just jumped right in – we cannot thank them enough for what they did,” he said.
“To have Robert here today is very special for us as a nation and shows our bond with the British people which we cherish.”
Harper and his team joined rescue efforts after The Wild Boar soccer team, aged 11-16, and their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, were reported missing on June 23 following a visit to the caves.
Rapidly rising floodwaters had left them stranded after what they had intended to be a short exploration of a cave.
It took teams until July 10 for the latest of the boys to be rescued and over the course of the operation, Saman Kunan, a former sergeant in the Thai Navy Seals who was volunteering, passed away after his oxygen ran out underwater in the cave system.