Aussie Divers Share Disbelief After Thai Cave Rescue
'It was absolutely life and death.'
The Australian cave divers who assisted in the remarkable rescue of the ‘Wild Boars’ football team in Thailand did not expect to be getting 13 people out alive.
Adelaide anaesthetist Dr Richard Harris and his diving partner Craig Challen, from Perth, have returned home following the operation, with the boys expected to be discharged from hospital next week.
The pair arrived in Chiang Rai on July 5, three days after the 12 boys and their coach were found inside the Tham Luang Cave, to what Challen thought would be a recovery mission. At that point, the rescue plan was already in place.
“Everybody was just frantically trying to work out what the best way to go about it was,” he told News Corp.
“(We thought) we were there to do recoveries, so the actual outcome was unbelievably good.”
The retired vet stressed the operation itself was dangerous, not for themselves, but for the kids.
“It was absolutely life and death. We didn’t expect to be getting 13 people out of there alive,” he said.
“That fact that you have got a living, breathing little tiny person that you are in charge of and you are very limited as to what you can to do help them -- and it is a two-hour journey out of the cave… it was taxing.”
He confirmed the boys were sedated to keep them calm.
"We could not have panicking kids in there, they would have killed themselves and possibly killed the rescuer as well."
Harris, who was last out of the cave after being tasked with giving the medical all-clear for each mission, said the rescue was overall an “amazing experience”.
“(There were ) some moments of significant fear, and then a great result, and some really joyous moments to finish,” he told media after arriving home on Saturday.
Harris has been described as a key part of the rescue but has been keen to highlight the role of others.
On his way home to Australia, he posted a message to Facebook praising everyone who was involved in the massive effort -- including the British and local divers’ skills and the large teams of workers who pumped water from the cave to keep water levels low.
“There was an amazing bunch of people to work with during the rescue from both Australia and overseas,” he said on Saturday.
Harris said grieving his father’s death at the end of the rescue was a “bittersweet moment”.
“I’m hoping to get back to work, go through the funeral to celebrate dad’s life and get everything back to normal as quickly as possible.”
Thousands are calling on Harris and Challen to be presented with the Cross of Valour, Australia’s highest civilian bravery award.