After Heroic Thai Rescue, Cave-Diving Australian Doctor Mourns Father's Death

Blanche Robertson
July 15, 2018

"As a large part of our chosen pursuit of cave diving seems to revolve around ferrying heavy objects in and out of caves, submersing ourselves in frigid waters for many hours and generally abusing our bodies in a multitude of ways, we were beginning to take on the persona of the wet mule itself!", the Wet Mules website says.

Harris played a pivotal role in the rescue effort mounted after days of strategising how to get the boys out, assessing their fitness for the perilous journey back to the outside.

Mr Pearce gave no cause of death or the age of Dr Harris' father, Jim.

Dr Harris and Mr Challen touched down with twenty Australians involved in the unsafe Tham Luang cave rescue.

On Wednesday, Harris declined to comment to the Australian newspaper in Thailand.

Their return came as parents of the 12 boys, all members of the Wild Boars soccer team, made it clear they had no blame for the boys' junior coach, Ekkapon "Ake" Chantawongse.

All the boys have been taken to a Chiang Rai hospital for treatment and medical evaluations.

"Night was very cold but the coach hugged him, teaching everyone meditation to prevent excessive breathing and to not feel hungry".

Dr Richard Harris speaks to the media outside his Adelaide home.

The group of boys and their coach were trapped for two weeks before rescuers came to get them out.

The coach also dug them into the muddy wall to keep warm and sleep.

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In a meticulously planned extraction, the boys put on wetsuits and diving gear before being sedated, put on stretchers and pulled or carried out through submerged passageways and up steep slopes inside the mountain.

He spoke briefly as he departed Chiang Rai airport, refusing to accept credit.

"What we do is very calculating, very calm".

Even when the boys were out safely, he remained inside the mountain making sure everybody involved in the mission was OK.

"I think that the children who went through this ordeal in the cave were heroes in their own right, and the Thai SEALs themselves went above and beyond - I would class them as heroes", Major Alex Rubin from the Australian Defence Force said.

The last time it was given out was in 2003, when Senior Constable Timothy Britten entered a bombed Bali nightclub to rescue a badly injured woman, and then continued to search for survivors. Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has signalled the government is considering how to formally recognise the Australian team.

They arrived on July 5, three days after the boys were found and Challen said when he and Harris arrived at the cave they thought "we were there to do recoveries, so the actual outcome was unbelievably good".

A British driver involved in the rescue initially said the boys were given ketamine but Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha clarified that it was an anti-anxiety medication, and that they were still conscious.

They also acknowledged the "vast number" of military and civilian participants who helped in the operation, along with their Australian colleagues.

Speaking publicly on Saturday for the first time since returning, Harris said his father's death coming shortly after the successful rescue had been a bittersweet moment.

When the kids and coach were delivered to chamber 3, the U.S. 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.

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