Australian Doctor’s Selfless Act Before Leaving Cave
An Australian doctor who risked his life to save 12 soccer players trapped in a Thai cave was told his father had died just moments after the daring mission was accomplished.
Dr Richard ‘Harry’ Harris, the last person out of the Tham Luang cave system after the triumphant rescue, learned the sad news shortly after he helped the last of the boys to safety on Tuesday.
‘It is with great sadness that I confirm Harry’s dad passed away last night a short time after the successful rescue operation in Thailand,’ said Andrew Pearce, Dr Harris’ boss and MedSTAR clinical director.
‘This is clearly a time of grief for the Harris family, magnified by the physical and emotional demands of being part of this week’s highly complex and ultimately successful rescue operation.
‘He will be coming home soon and taking some well-earned time off to be with his family.’
Anaesthetist Dr Richard Harris (pictured), who played a vital role in saving 12 soccer players trapped in a Thai cave system, made a surprising first phone call as the daring rescue mission came to a joyous end
All 12 players, pictured from top left clockwise, Adul Sam-on, 14, Panumas Saengdee, 13, Sompong Jaiwong, 13, Ekkarat Wongsookchan, 14, Pipat Bodhi, 15, Peerapat Sompiangjai, 16, Pornchai Kamluang, 16, Prajak Sutham, 14, Chanin Wiboonrungrueng, 11, Mongkol Boonpiam, 14, Nattawut ‘Tle’ Takamsai, 14 and Duangpetch Promthep, 13
Dr Harris was described as ‘essential’ to the rescue operation because of his unique skills and expertise, including 30 years of cave diving experience and his work as a medical retrieval specialist with South Australia’s MedSTAR service.
Dr Harris was known globally both for his work as a doctor and his ability to retrieve people from difficult places.
‘All the team at SA Ambulance Service is incredibly proud of Dr Harris. It has been a tumultuous week with highs and lows,’ Dr Pearce said.
‘We are delighted that Harry and the boys are safe and that he was able to play such a remarkable role in the Australian response.
‘Harry is a quiet and kind man who did not think twice about offering his support on this mission.’
Dr Pearce said Dr Harris (pictured with wife Fiona) was known globally both for his work as a doctor and his ability to retrieve people from difficult places
Dr Pearce described his colleague (pictured) as ‘an interesting character’ who would not have hesitated for a second in answering the call for his help
The 53-year-old anaesthetist, from Adelaide, was hailed for an ingenious medical idea that helped the trapped boys stay calm during the gruelling 1.7km swim to the surface.
Deep inside the cave system, Dr Harris administered a mild sedative to the boys, ensuring the inexperienced swimmers didn’t panic in the water, The Daily Telegraph reported.
The astonishing story has gripped Thailand and the world since the group was discovered trapped alive by two British cave divers on July 2, nine days after disappearing while exploring the Tham Luang cave system.
Onlookers in front of Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital watch and cheer as ambulances transport the last rescued schoolboys and their coach
The astonishing story has gripped Thailand and the world since the group was discovered trapped on July 2. Thai rescue team members are pictured at the scene
Australia played a vital role in the operation, sending 19 personnel including six military divers and Dr Harris, who on Saturday assessed the boys’ health and cleared the way for the dangerous operation to go ahead.
When Dr Harris joined the Thai rescue crew at the Tham Luang cave system, he convinced officials to change their plans and bring the weakest boys out first, instead of the strongest.
The initial strategy was to extract the strongest boys first because they would have more chance of making it to safety while the others could stay back and build up strength.
Deep inside the cave system, Dr Harris administered a mild sedative to the boys (pictured), ensuring the inexperienced swimmers didn’t panic in the water
Australia played a vital role in the operation, sending 19 personnel including six military divers and Dr Harris (pictured)
But that was revised after Dr Harris’ health assessment found some of the weaker boys may not survive if they were left behind, according to Thai media.
The Australians were part of an international rescue team headed by Thai navy SEALs that braved dangerous conditions to extract the final five members of the group from the flooded cave, where they had been trapped for more than two weeks.
The other eight boys had been extracted from the cave on Sunday and Monday.
The Thai navy SEALs chant ‘Hooyah’ rang around the media centre opposite the site when news filtered through around 6.30pm local time on Tuesday that coach Ekapol Chanthawong, 25, was the last to be pulled from the cave.
Thai rescue team members walk inside a cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach were trapped since June 23
An army medic and three Thai Navy SEALs pose for a photograph after the heroic evacuation from the cave
The chant also greeted the head of the rescue mission Narongsak Osottanakorn as he entered a press conference three hours later to the glow of local and international media spotlights.
‘We did something no-one else thought was possible,’ he said as he thanked the Thai and international rescue team.