Cave rescue’s hero doctor gives dramatic account

Australian Medical Association/AusMed

Stunning details of the dramatic rescue of 12 young soccer players from a flooded cave in Thailand in 2018 has been revealed in a candid and in-depth interview with rescue diver – recipient of the AMA Gold Medal, Dr Richard Harris SC OAM.

Dr Harris was hailed a hero for risking his life in the successful retrieval operation.

A Flinders University medical graduate, expert cave diver and specialised anaesthetist, Dr Harris was joined by popular Australian science personality Dr Karl Kruszelnicki AM for Flinders University’s annual Investigator Lecture earlier this year.

In front of a captivated, sell-out crowd at Adelaide Town Hall, Dr Harris revealed dramatic details from behind the scenes of the rescue operation that saw the young soccer players – aged from 11 to 16 – and their coach medically sedated, fitted with full-face diving masks, and brought through the flooded cave network to safety by a team of 19 diving rescue experts.

The interview video is now available on Flinders University’s YouTube channel at

Dr Harris explained many of the technical difficulties that made the rescue operation such a logistical challenge; such as finding the right model of specialised scuba mask that would provide constant positive air pressure, allowing the boys to breathe while anaesthetised and under water.

“There were hundreds of masks sent from all around the world; the US military bought a heap of them; the Australian Federal Police had some. Dive shops from all around… were sending masks. (There was) one model with this particular function, and there were only four of them,” Dr Harris said.

The rescue operation was fraught with tense moments, with one rescue diver losing grip of the guide rope and getting lost in the turbid water.

“He basically spent 15 minutes swimming around, with no visibility, with his child starting to wake up. Completely off the line, didn’t know where he was, gas running out,” Dr Harris said.

Officially closed since the 2018 incident, the cave network in Thailand’s Tham Luang National Park was only recently reopened, with more than 2,000 tourists visiting the site.

Dr Harris and fellow Australian diver who partnered him in the successful cave rescue, veterinary surgeon Craig Challen SC OAM, have also written a book of the account called Against All Odds, published by Penguin Random House.

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