Australian Thai cave rescuers share their lessons from crisis

Tuesday, 01 October 2019


    Joint Australians of the Year, Dr Richard Harris and Craig Challen, recount their experience and involvement in the 2018 rescue mission of Tham Luang cave in Thailand.

    In June 2018, an international diving team rescued 12 boys and their soccer coach, trapped by floodwaters in the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand. Among the rescuers were South Australian anaesthetist Dr Richard Harris and retired vet Dr Craig Challen, joint 2019 Australians of the Year. Their experience shows the value of staying calm in a crisis, making clear plans and showing compassion for those affected.

    Richard “Harry” Harris

    “I said [at the start] no, we’re not going to anaesthetise them and swim them out. Absolutely nothing changed from my perspective of the risks of anaesthetising and immersing them. I can’t emphasise how dangerous it was and the consternation we had during planning when that was the only option left to us. I was filled with enormous pessimism. We went back in April to visit some of the boys and asked them about the danger they were in. They said they trusted us and thought everything would be OK.”

    Craig Challen

    “Harry and I had a discussion the night before about what we’d do if some of the boys died — what we’d tell the other boys. It still troubles us. We were totally convinced that what we were attempting was nigh on impossible. We were staring at happy, healthy kids and thinking we may be dragging them out as bodies.”

    Dr Richard Harris and Dr Craig Challen spoke at the Queensland Investment Corporation conference in August. Their book, Against All Odds (Viking), is released in November.

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