The Duke of Cambridge has told UK cave divers who helped save 12 trapped boys in Thailand the country is “very proud” of their efforts.
William welcomed some of the British team who took part in the rescue mission, and their UK support groups, to Buckingham Palace in recognition of their work.
The second-in-line to the throne reminisced about his own time underground when he was reunited with caver and cave diving expert Martyn Farr, who had taken the duke and his brother on a subterranean adventure in Wales in 1999.
And he heard the story of one volunteer who drove at speeds of up to 110mph on his way to Heathrow Airport to deliver two vital diving masks – behind a police escort.
The Duke who is a keen diver and president of the British Sub-Aqua Club, said during the palace reception: “Well done guys, it was fantastic, it really was. You should be very proud of yourselves.
“Everyone here was watching, everyone here was very proud…
“And I think cave rescue now is emblazoned in neon signs.”
The daring operation was launched to reach the young footballers and their team coach after they became stranded more than two miles deep inside the Tham Luang cave network on June 23.
They spent 18 days marooned in the dark – their exit cut off by a flash flood – before specialist dive teams guided them out one by one.
British diving experts and support workers were hailed as integral to the rescue bid, which also involved specialists from the US, Belgium, Australia and Scandinavia.
Cave diver Chris Jewell, 36, from Cheddar, Somerset said: “It was a very intense period. In the three days of the rescue operation of bringing the children out we just had to be focused on that mission.
“I was bringing the children out so I would dive with a child through the cave.
“It was particularly difficult diving conditions, particularly diving with another human being.”
Ali Garman, 45, told William how he collected two specialist children’s mask – the only pair in the UK – from a diving shop in Cardiff and sped along the M4 motorway to Heathrow so they could be transported on a Thai Airways flight.
Mr Garman, a warden with South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team, said he had a police escort for part of the journey from a Wiltshire officer who asked what speed he felt comfortable driving at, and when he replied 90mph the officer said “we’ll do 100mph”.
The 45-year-old added he made the flight with 10 minutes to spare in his BMW 5 Series car: “He was clearing the road in front of me, I was hanging back what I thought was a safe distance and we were doing 105-110mph.”
At the reception were divers Lance Corporal Connor Roe, Robert Harper and Belgian Jim Warny.
William told some of the group about his caving experience with Mr Farr joking: “I still remember standing at the entrance thinking ‘there’s no way I can fit down that hole’ and he said ‘follow me’.”