The Australian doctor critical to the Thai cave rescue received the heartbreaking news his father had died after he emerged from the flooded tunnels.
The Australian doctor and experienced diver who played a key part in the rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave system lost his father just hours after helping the boys to safety.
Dr Richard “Harry” Harris, an Adelaide anaesthetist with more than 30 years’ cave diving experience, was central to the dramatic and dangerous rescue – swimming 4km through cold, submerged tunnels to make contact with the stranded team and provide medical aid.
It’s understood Dr Harris was the last person to come out of the cave after assessing the remaining four boys and their coach.
But it has emerged he lost his father the same night of the operation.
South Australian Ambulance released a short statement, saying the medic had suffered a “tumultuous week with highs and lows”.
“It is with great sadness that I confirm that Harry’s dad passed away last night a short time after the successful rescue operation in Thailand,” MedSTAR’s director of clinical services Dr Andrew Pearce said.
“I have spoken with Harry. 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 the experienced diver was a “quiet and kind man” who “did not think twice about offering his support on this mission”.
Praise for Aussie medic
Dr Harris’ efforts have received particular praise from acting Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osotanakorn.
“(The Australians) have been a big help, especially the doctor,” Osotanakorn told 9NEWS.
“Very good. The best – not good – the very best.”
The 53-year-old medic was also been singled out by the Australian government, with a joint statement from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Defence Minister Marise Payne and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton praising him.
“Australia has played an integral role in this unprecedented operation. We congratulate all of those involved, including Dr Richard Harris and his dive partner Craig Challen, as well as our Australian Federal Police divers and personnel from the Australian Defence Force and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who provided logistics and planning expertise,” the statement read.
“Australia has been proud to work with Thailand and other countries to achieve this extraordinary outcome. “
Dr Harris was the medic who made the call for the team to be swum out after assessing them last week.
Authorities were exploring multiple options to get the 13 Thais out, including tunnelling in or providing them with enough supplies to wait out the monsoon season.
However, limited air and the likelihood of more heavy rain saw the timeline step up.
The Australian doctor made the challenging swim through the extensive network of flooded tunnels to ensure the children – none of whom had any dive training – were physically up to the 1.7km trek out.
He also administered a sedative to the boys to calm them for the epic exit. (SBS)