Thai Cave Rescue: Australian doctor speaks for the first time after returning home

THE Australian doctor who played a pivotal role in rescuing 12 young boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Thailand has spoken briefly to media for the first time.

Doctor Richard Harris touched down in Adelaide on Friday night, just days after helping complete the marathon mission.

Speaking to reporters on home soil on Saturday, Dr Harris described the joy of the remarkable rescue mixed with the “bittersweet” feelings of the passing of his father.


The Aussie doctor’s role in the rescue was tinged with tragedy after it was revealed his father had died shortly after the boys and their and coach were extracted from the cave.

Harris spoke of “moments of significant fear” while deep inside the cave, feelings which were followed by some “really joyous moments” when each boy was rescued.

“It’s really nice to be back home with my friends and family,” Dr Harris said. “I am just trying to get back to normal life as soon as possible.”

In the days since the rescue, more than 33,000 people have signed a petition on, calling for Dr Harris and his dive partner Dr Craig Challen to be presented with the Cross of Valour, Australia’s highest civilian bravery award.

Sitting in the back of an RAAF C17 transport aircraft on his way back to Australia on Friday afternoon, Dr Harris posted a heartfelt message to Facebook, praising everyone involved in the global effort.

He said the flight home was the first chance he had to really stop and reflect on the extraordinary events of the past eight days.

Here is what he had to say:

“By the time we arrived on site, local divers like Ben Reymenants and the awesome foursome from Britain (John Volanthen, Rick Stanton, Jason Mallinson and Chris Jewell) had already been doing the most extraordinary dives through the cave and laying the very robust rope which made all subsequent dives to the soccer team not only possible, but safe.

The efforts and skill of these guys in blazing this trail cannot be underestimated.

Following someone else’s line is very much easier than finding your own way. Rick and John not only found the children and coach alive, but conveyed the gravity of the situation to the rest of the world and thus the rescue started in earnest. The 4 Brits then did further supply dives to the soccer players, the coach and the four Thai Navy Seals which allowed them to prepare and sustain themselves for the rescue ultimately.

Meanwhile on the ground, 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. I have never seen anything like it with man battling to control the natural forces of the monsoon waters. Local climbing and rope access workers rigged the dry cave section for that part of the rescue and scoured the bush for more entrances to the cave. Drilling teams attempted to get through nearly a km of rock to the boy’s location. And all this time 4 brave Navy Seals sat with the Wild Boars knowing they were in as much danger as the kids.

When it seemed all other options were exhausted, the decision to swim the players out was made and the rescue went ahead. As the kids came out, the 4 British rescue divers were supported by Craig and I, three other very talented young CDG divers from the UK (Connor, Josh and Jim) and the ͞Euro divers͟ (Erik, Ivan, 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.

When the kids and coach were delivered to chamber 3, the US pararescue teams, AFP SRG divers, Aussie CD, Chinese divers and Thai Navy and Military medics assessed the kids, then whisked them out of the cave to a field hospital before moving them to the massive hospital in Chang Rai centre. We were lucky to visit the boys, coach and Seals and all the beautiful medical and nursing staff in the hospital on our way home.

I wanted to write this to try and give credit to all the people who were in some way involved. 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 than all the many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people I have mentioned. The part we played has been made out to be a lot more noble than it actually was, we just consider ourselves lucky to have had some skills that we could contribute to the wonderful outcome.

Special thanks to the NCCTRC and AUSMAT, DFAT, Australian Embassy Staff in Thailand, the Thai Tourist Police (our protectors!), local liaison, the local cavers. Our heartfelt condolences to the family of ex Navy Seal Saman Gunan who died during the rescue efforts.

At home we must thank our families for dealing with the media and the worry we caused them (they are used to the latter I fear). To MedSTAR and the SA Ambulance Service for the significant assistance and support especially from Drs James Doube and Andrew Pearce. To the team at Specialist Anaesthetic Services for the same. To the Cave Divers Association of Australia for handling the flurry of interest in our sport…the management team there has been amazing especially our best mate John Dalla-Zuanna.

To the worldwide community of cavers and divers who have handled themselves with grace and dignity and tried to throw some facts the media’s way occasionally! Finally to the thousands of well-wishers from Thailand and around the world; we promise we have read every message!

Kittanu, Michael, Cameron, Andrew, Glenn, Jo and Grace… sorry to give you so much grief! Legends every one of you. To our new band of brothers; the Aussie, US , UK and Euro/Canadian divers – lifelong friendships and respect.”

– Harry and Craig