The British divers who took part in the rescue of 12 Thai boys and their football coach trapped in a flooded cave, left an emotional message for the children before their flight home.
Jason Mallinson, from Huddersfield, said: ‘We’re very glad we could get you out alive,’ before adding to the rescued boys to ‘be careful in the future’.
Mr Mallinson, 50, and fellow diver John Volanthen, 47, were greeted by cheering crowds as they arrived at a Bangkok airport ahead of their flight back to the UK.
A contingency of government ministers were also in attendance to gift them certificates and medals – promising them free travel to Thailand for life.
Heroes: Jason Mallinson, 50, left, and John Volanthen, 47, right, arrived at a Bangkok airport to cheers from crowds and Thai officials ahead of their flight back to the UK
Video shows the exhausted pair trudging through the airport in their shorts, t-shirt and backpacks before meeting Thailand’s ministers for Tourism and Travel.
Upon awarding them medals and certificates from the Prime Minister, Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith added: ‘Consider it free tickets to Thailand, any time’.
‘This is to show our appreciation, our Prime Minister asked for you to be given this,’ Tourism Minister Wirasak Kowsoorad told them.
”Thank you so much for your effort. It was a great rescue and we very appreciate it.
‘Now, both of you, you will always be welcome, any time, you have so many friends here.’
Friends of the nation: Mr Mallinson, from Huddersfield and Mr Volanthen, from Bristol, who helped rescue the 12 Thai cave boys have been awarded free travel to the Asian nation – for life
Certificates: The pair received a hero’s welcome from Thai ministers who gave them certificates and gift medals
Mr Mallinson and Mr Volanthen opted to fly back to Britain last night even though they could have lapped up admiration from millions of Thais who threw wild street parties all over the country in their honour.
John Volanthen, an IT consultant from Bristol, said ‘the result is the important thing’
Speaking yesterday, the daring divers rejected suggestions that they are heroes who should be knighted.
‘It’s not like that – if you could do the same for someone else’s child, you would,’ said Mr Volanthen, an IT consultant from Bristol.
‘The result is the important thing. The kids came out, the coach is good, the [Thai navy] Seals are good – job done.
‘So we’re pleased with that.’
Told he was a national hero, Mr Volanthen protested: ‘It’s not like that. If you could do the same for someone else’s child, you would.
‘I can’t explain why, but it’s not like that. It’s just…it worked.’
This incredible ‘it’ involved discovering the lost children, whom not even special forces could find, and then leading their stunning rescue from a hideous dungeon-like cavern three miles inside a mountain.
Coming out: One of the Wild Boar FC players is seen being moved on a stretcher during the three-day rescue operation to get the children out of the cave
Video footage shows a complex operation with numerous divers and rescue workers using pulleys, ropes and rubber piping to haul the children to safety
Another part of the video shows the team carrying one of the boys while the pipes used to pump out water are seen in the background
The daring British divers who played key roles in saving the 12 young boys and their coach last night rejected suggestions that they are heroes who should be knighted
Jason Mallinson, one of the hero cave divers who helped rescue 12 boys and their football coach from flooded caves in Thailand is from Huddersfield
Mr Mallinson, from Huddersfield, insisted: ‘We’re not heroes.
‘It was a difficult mission but we succeeded and the results speak for themselves. I feel good – now it’s over. It will be good to get home.’
Now there are calls for the brave British potholers – nine in total – to be honoured at Buckingham Palace.
Writing on Twitter, former Conservative Party treasurer Lord Ashcroft suggested Mr Stanton and Mr Volanthen could be awarded the George Cross or the George Medal for their gallantry.
Others called for the pair to be given knighthoods, while Oscar-winning US actress Marlee Matlin tweeted: ‘Oceans of gratitude to the British Thai cave divers.’