British divers who played a part in a daring operation to rescue 12 boys trapped in a cave complex in Thailand have been decorated for their actions.
The football team disappeared on June 23 after their exit from the tunnels was cut off by a flash flood, prompting an international effort to save the boys and their coach.
British expat Vern Unsworth, 63, who is suing Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk for labelling him a ‘pedo guy’, has been handed an MBE for his role in the heroic rescue.
Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, who were the first divers to reach the children, have been awarded the George Medal, the second highest civilian gallantry award.
Joshua Bratchley and Lance Corporal Connor Roe, 26, from Scotland, also receive MBEs.
British expat Vern Unsworth (left), who was labelled a ‘pedo guy’ by Elon Musk, receives an MBE along with Lance Corporal Connor Roe (right) for their role in the Thai cave rescue
Meanwhile Christopher Jewell and Jason Mallinson, 50, from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, have been given the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for exemplary acts of bravery.
Reacting to the announcement, Mr Unsworth said: ‘This was a team effort, and I’m very honoured to have been recognised, particularly as you don’t engage in a major rescue expecting this outcome.
‘For me, after saving the boys, this is the icing on the cake.’
The British divers answered a call by Thai authorities to join a major search after the group disappeared in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave, in Chiang Rai province, on June 23.
Aged between 11 and 16,they entered the caves and became marooned in the dark until Mr Stanton, 56, from Coventry, and Mr Volanthen, 46, from Bristol, reached them on July 3.
But the rescuers still faced the treacherous task of getting the team safely out of the flooded and muddy labyrinth, and the persistent threat of bad weather heightened the risk.
Seven Royal Thai Navy Seals and a medic joined the boys in the cave and the youngsters were given diving lessons as authorities continued to weigh up the two options – wait for conditions to improve or bring the boys out as soon as possible.
Both were fraught with danger and a stark reminder of the risk came when a former navy Seal aiding the rescue effort died from a lack of oxygen during his mission.
The group disappeared on June 23 after their exit from the tunnels was cut off by a flash flood, prompting an international effort to save the boys and their coach
With further flooding expected and oxygen running low, it was decided to guide the boys out through nearly a mile of flooded caverns and tight passages.
The joy that greeted the emergence of the last of the team on July 10 – after 18 days underground – rippled around the world.
However a bizarre spat ensued between Mr Musk and Mr Unsworth, a diver who had claimed the Space X founder’s offers to help save the children with a ‘tiny, kid-size submarine’ were just a ‘PR stunt’.
Mr Unsworth, originally from St Albans but now living in Thailand, had experience of the caves where the boys became stuck.
The billionaire took exception to Mr Unsworth’s suggestion that he could ‘stick his submarine where it hurts’ and said, in a tweet deleted a short time later, ‘sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it’.
Mr Musk apologised but then repeated the jibe and Mr Unsworth is suing him in a US court.
From left: Josh Bratchley (awarded an OBE for services to cave diving overseas), Jason Mallinson (Queen’s Gallantry Medal) and Chris Jewell (Queen’s Gallantry Medal)
Mr Jewell, from Cheddar, Somerset, who is the diving officer of the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC), praised the ‘amazing support’ they received during and after the rescue.
‘People from all over the country and the world have reached out to us to offer congratulations and express their gratitude,’ the 36-year-old said.
‘Behind every one of the cave divers being honoured is a supporting cast of family, friends, rescue volunteers and employers. The support and help from all these people made it possible for us to complete a successful rescue.
‘I’ve been really touched by the way everyone has responded. Not only the caving and diving communities which have rallied around us but also the support and assistance we’ve had from our employers and work colleagues.
‘I really appreciate the recognition our BCRC team is receiving with these honours and thanks to everyone that nominated us.’
Mr Bratchley, 27, a Met Office meteorologist based at RAF Valley, in Anglesey, North Wales, said it was ‘incredible to be recognised in such a way’.
‘We’d like to sincerely thank everyone who helped us in any capacity and make it clear that such a rescue could never work otherwise – the diving was just the tip of a very large iceberg,’ he added.