A hero Australian doctor who played a lead role in the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a Thai cave has shared a first-hand account of the terrifying dive in a video call with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The PM shared footage of him chatting to some of the rescue team and congratulated them on their successful mission, before sending his condolences to Dr Richard Harris, 53, after it was revealed his father had died this week.
The anaesthetist, from South Australia, was met with the news a matter of hours after he emerged from the cave. His boss Dr Andrew Pearce confirmed it at the time and told the ABC: “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”
Asked by the PM about his role in the incredible mission – which saw all 13 members of the Wild Boars soccer team pulled out of the Tham Luang Cave in northern Thailand through a complex maze of tiny tunnels and holes – Harris instead paid tribute to the brave children and Thai Navy SEALs who helped him.
He explained: “The last couple of hundred metres underwater is very difficult to find your way through. For the entire dive at the back of the cave there’s zero visibility (due to) mud and clay…
“So you’re following the (guide) line with your hand and you basically might as well have you eyes closed for the whole trip with a small boy being cradled in your arms and feeling your way through rocks and posting yourself sideways through little holes.”
Turnbull called him an “inspiration” and thanked him repeatedly for making Australia “proud”, before paying his respects to the family following his father’s death.
However, rather than speaking of his grief, Harris thanked his colleagues involved in the rescue, as well as the young boys they pulled out.
“They are the toughest blokes and kids I have ever had the privilege to meet,” he added.
Now, Aussies who have followed his recent story are calling for Harris to get the Australian of the Year Award.
One wrote on Twitter: “Adelaide doctor Richard Harris stopped his holiday to help those Thai boys. If ever a bloke deserved to be Australian of the Year it’s this man. He’s what embodies the true spirit of this country,” while another simply added: “Dr Richard Harris for Australian of the Year #ThaiCaveResue #ThamLuangCave #WildBoars.”
Harris, known to friends as ‘Harry’, was part of the expert team who successfully saved all 13 members of the soccer team, who were trapped inside the cave for 17 days after heavy rain caused the cave system to flood.
The last child emerged on Tuesday at around 6pm local time (9pm AEST), according to Newscorp. In total, 19 divers assisted in the rescue of the final five members of the group, said to be the one of the toughest rescue operations to date. It is believed the youngest child, aged 11, was one of the last to be freed, although it was the boys’ 25-year-old coach who was the last to be rescued.