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21 Jul 2018 8:39
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  •   Home > News > Sports > Soccer

    Thai cave rescue: Australian doctor who was last one out praises boys while grieving father's death

    The Australian doctor who was the last man out of the Thai cave has praised the young footballers whose ordeal sparked the rescue. Cave-diving anaesthetist Richard Harris (right) is in mourning after being told his father had died shortly after the end of

    The Australian doctor who was the last man out of the Thai cave has praised the young footballers whose ordeal sparked the rescue.

    Adelaide anaesthetist Dr Richard Harris is mourning the death of his father, after being informed of his death shortly after the daring rescue mission wrapped up last night.

    Dr Harris was the man tasked with giving the medical all-clear for each evacuation, and decided what order the boys would leave the cave in.

    He was part of a team of 20 Australians involved in the Thai-led rescue effort, and has been described as an integral part of the rescue.

    But speaking to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull via FaceTime, Dr Harris said the "big heroes" were the 12 children themselves, and the Thai Navy SEAL divers who looked after them in the cave.

    "They are the toughest blokes and kids I've ever had the privilege to meet," Dr Harris said.

    "They are the ones who were responsible for their own morale and really their own safety and without them being in the state they were in we couldn't have done anything."

    'A time of grief' for Harris family, but joy in Thailand

    Dr Harris has declined to speak to the media, but his boss Dr Andrew Pearce said Dr Harris was grieving for his father, who died shortly after the end of the mission.

    "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," Dr Pearce said.

    "He will be coming home soon and taking some well-earned time off to be with his family. "He has asked that the family's privacy is respected at this time."

    The Australian team in Thailand also included Dr Harris's West Australian dive partner, six Australian Federal Police divers, a Navy clearance diver and members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Crisis Rescue Team.

    They echoed Dr Harris's praise for the children during a press conference on Wednesday.

    "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.

    Major Rubin also gave a first-hand account of the experience working with Dr Harris.

    "He is an extremely humble man given the amount of pressure that was placed on him," Major Rubin said.

    The Australian Federal Australian police said the scale and risk of the operation was "unprecedented" as rescuers moved approximately 20 tonnes of equipment including oxygen tanks, pumps and food through the cave system.

    "Our people spent 75 hours in that cave," AFP Commander Glen McEwen said.

    The children and their coach remain in quarantine along with the Thai Navy SEALs involved in their rescue.

    Medical workers will continue to look for signs of infections in the team members over the next fortnight, although initial lab results have cleared them.

    Holiday turned into mercy mission

    Dr Harris was meant to be on holiday but instead found himself putting his own life at risk to venture into the Chiang Rai cave to medically assess the 12 boys and their coach trapped inside.

    He responded to the call for help from Thai authorities when he was named specifically by the British diving team leading the mission as the best person for the job, with his medical skills and 30 years' diving experience.

    "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."

    Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop said it took an incredible team effort to rescue the boys, with Dr Harris playing a key role.

    "He was an integral part of the rescue attempt," she told the ABC. "He is internationally renowned for his expertise in cave rescues.

    Ms Bishop said all the Australians involved would be in line for formal recognition of their actions.

    Harris decided what order the trapped boys should leave the cave

    Dr Harris assessed the health of the boys and their coach, determining who needed to get out of the cave quickest and who could wait longer.

    Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Dr Tony Bartone said Dr Harris put his own safety on the line to help others and should be commended.

    "Dr Harris's efforts here are nothing short of absolutely exceptional and beyond and above the call of duty, but that's typical of many of the doctors that make up the medical profession in Australia," he said.

    The AMA tweeted that Dr Harris was "an amazing doctor and human being".

    Bill Griggs, who used to be Dr Harris's boss at South Australia's emergency medical retrieval service, MedSTAR, where the anaesthetist still works, said it was his rare skillset that made Thai authorities seek him out.

    "To do cave-diving, you have to be all about attention to detail and you have to be meticulous," Dr Griggs told the ABC.

    "The combination of his medical knowledge and his cave-diving skills was clearly [why] the British guys requested that he come as well."

    Dr Griggs said it was likely Dr Harris would be a reluctant hero over his role in the successful rescues.

    "I suspect Harry will feel much the same as others, and I, have felt," he said.

    "When you've been a part of a team, you really feel at little bit embarrassed, or sheepish, about [the accolades] because it is a big team effort."

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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