Finnish diver Mikko Paasi was summoned to the court of the Thai King Thursday for a ceremony in which he was honoured for helping to rescue a team of 12 young football players and their coach from a flooded cave system in June and July.
Paasi left Malta for Thailand on Wednesday and after a 17-hour flight, the Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn presented him with an award for his role in a broadly-publicised and nail-biting rescue that gripped the world for about two weeks.
Paasi joined the rescued youngsters and their coach, plus other international divers in a gala ceremony and government dignitaries that took place in Bangkok’s Government House.
According to the Bangkok Post, the King bestowed Thailand’s highest honour, the Knight of the Grand Cross of the Most Admirable Order to the rescuers.
Paasi and 113 other foreigners as well as 74 Thais involved in the rescue effort received the award on Thursday.
“I only found out yesterday that this kind of accolade would be presented,” Paasi told Yle on Friday.
Divers reunite with boys, coach
Back in June, the Wild Boars football team and their coach had ventured into a cave system when heavy rains trapped them underground. They were stuck inside the cave for nine days, surviving on water dripping from rocks before an international team of divers came to their rescue.
Paasi said that he will remember the sumptuous award ceremony, attended by some 7,000 people, forever. He added that he also had the opportunity to see the rescued youngsters and their coach once again.
“It was a heart-warming encounter. The boys sat at a neighbouring table and we chatted for three hours,” the diver recalled.
He added that the boys appeared to be cheerful and in good health.
During his trip to Thailand, Paasi also visited the Finnish Embassy in Bangkok and made time to speak with other diving professionals who participated in the operation.
"We were able to catch up and it was also an opportunity to start over. There wasn’t a great deal of time to talk in the cave," he remarked.
Tabloid daily Ilta-Sanomat was the first Finnish media outlet to report on Paasi’s award.