The 12 Thai boys rescued from a flooded cave in northern Thailand will be discharged from hospital “as soon as possible”, the country’s health department has announced.
Thailand’s Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn said the boys and their coach need time and care to recover both physically and mentally, adding that a group discharge from Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital was likely for Thursday, July 19.
It was a bitter-sweet day for those who battled so long and hard to liberate the unlucky thirteen from their underground tomb.
Even as families celebrated the imminent reunions with their children, the diver who sacrificed his life to save them was honoured with Thailand’s highest award.
Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn recognised Saman Kunan’s bravery and promoted him to lieutenant commander, also bestowing the Knight Grand Cross (first class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant.
Mr Piyasakol confirmed none of the boys or their 25-year-old coach, Ekkapol Ake Chantawong, had infectious diseases, but all were considered susceptible to infections and pathogens while in the recovery phase.
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“To ensure that the patients recover from any possible mental disorders, the medical team and the psychiatrist recommend that they spend time with family and friends during the healing phase following the traumatic event for at least one month,” Mr Piyasakol said.
“We need to prepare both the children and their families for the attention they will receive when they come out.”
Speaking publically for the first time outside his Adelaide home, Dr Harris said it was nice to be home with his friends and family after an “amazing experience” assisting the Thai cave rescue mission.
Bitter-sweet, too, for Dr Richard “Harry” Harris, whose elation at rescuing the boys brought down to earth by the news that his father had died while he was kilometres below the surface.
“I’m dealing with that with my family and just trying to get back to normal life as fast as possible,” he told reporters outside his Adelaide home.
“I’m hoping to get back to work, go through the funeral and celebrate Dad’s life, and get everything back to normal as absolutely quickly as possible.”
Back in Thailand, Mr Piyasakol has advised the boys and their families to avoid all media exposure for at least one month “because doing so may trigger post traumatic stress disorder symptoms”.
The Thai boys have also recorded short video messages, giving their names, nicknames, and sharing what foods they want to eat once released from hospital.
In a fitting request, most of the ‘Wild Boars’ players said they were looking forward to a pork dish.
The boys’ imminent release comes as Australian expert cave diver Dr Richard ‘Harry’ Harris shares his reflections on the enormity of what he and his colleagues achieved in the Thai cave rescue mission.
Adelaide diver reflects on Thai cave rescue mission
While riding a RAAF C-17A back to Australia, Dr Harris, an anaesthetist when not diving, took to Facebook to debrief what was seen around the world as a “hopeless” rescue mission ever undertaken.
“I feel like it is the first opportunity to really stop and reflect on the extraordinary events of the past 8 days since Craig [Challen] and I were deployed as a small AUSMAT team to the rescue in Northern Thailand,” Dr Harris wrote in the long Facebook post.
Dr Harris, last man out of the complex and credited with immense heroism, described the pressure on even the most expert divers, saying he had “never seen anything like” the international rescue mission.
He and dive buddy Craig Challen, from Perth, known as the Wet Mules – a name inspired by cost of their diving hobby and the expression “enough money to burn a wet mule” – were key to extracting the 12 young soccer players and their coach from the flooded 4.7-kilometre Tham Luang cave system.
Australian Federal Police divers also swam through the labyrinth to reach the boys on each of the three rescue mission days and did not leave the cave until the boys had been evacuated to safety.
Dr Harris and Mr Challen, who usually perform black-water search operations, approached the boy’s cave in perilous conditions, alternating between walking laden with diving gear to diving for short 10-20 metre bursts.
Since the mission’s success, close to 40,000 Australians have signed a petition for the two divers to be awarded the Cross of Valour to recognise their “acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril”.
But Dr Harris told a story of a collective effort in his Facebook post, making sure to name every diver in the Thai cave rescue mission, as well as countless others.
“The Thais and international community sent in swarms of men and women to provide everything from catering, communications, media and of course the huge teams of workers filling the cave with tonnes and tonnes of equipment to try and lower the water and sustain the diving operations,” Dr Harris wrote.
“I have never seen anything like it with man battling to control the natural forces of the monsoon waters.”
Dr Harris made a point to name every local and international diver involved in the rescue, listing Britons John Volanthen, Rick Stanton, Jason Mallinson and Chris Jewell and Euro divers “Erik, Ivan and our good mate Claus, and Nikko”.
“The pressure that was put on these guys was immense and they never dropped the ball for a second,” the modest Australian hero wrote.
The Adelaide-based diver said he wrote the Facebook post to try to give credit to others, seemingly to deflect media attention and his quick rise to becoming a household name.
“Craig and I have had a spotlight on our efforts and we want to make everyone realise that while we might have become the face of this rescue for some reason, everyone should know that the role we played was no more or less important that all the many hundreds of people I have mentioned,” Dr Harris wrote.