Thai cave rescue hero emerges to family tragedy

Thai cave rescue hero emerges to family tragedy
PHOTO: Facebook/Richard Harris

An Australian doctor who looked after a young Thai football team during their harrowing cave ordeal emerged from the flooded underground complex to the sad news that his own father had died.

Richard Harris, a world-renowned medic and diver whose presence in the dramatic rescue of the Wild Boars squad was specially requested by experts, was reportedly the last person to leave the water-logged cavern on Tuesday.

"Harry", as he is known in the global caving community, cancelled a planned holiday and jetted into northern Thailand as part of the international team trying to get the youngsters out of the Tham Luang cave.

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Australian media said he put his own life at risk to venture four kilometres (2.5 miles) into the flooded cave to medically assess the 12 boys and their coach.

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Broadcaster ABC said it was Harris who decided in what order they should leave, in an operation that culminated in joy on Tuesday when Thailand's Navy SEALs declared the whole team was safely out, 18 days after the ordeal began.

Harris, part of a 20-strong Australian team who descended on the Chang Rai area, was the last person to emerge from the cave late on Tuesday as the boys were recuperating in hospital, ABC reported.

Touching memes celebrate success of #ThaiCaveRescue mission

But while the rescue had a happy ending, there was personal sadness for the Adelaide-based anaesthetist when he learned that his father had died.

"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," said Andrew Pearce, head of clinical services at SAAS MedSTAR, where Harris works.

"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."

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Our condolences to Doctor Richard Harris, one of the leading rescuers whose father just passed away hours after his...

Posted by Thai NavySEAL on Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop hailed Harris for being an "integral part of the rescue attempt".

She said his role had been "quite extraordinary" and the government planned to formally honour all the Australians who took part in the rescue.

The children aged from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, ventured into the cave in Thailand's mountainous north on June 23 after football practice and got trapped when heavy rains caused flooding that forced them to take shelter on a muddy ledge.

They spent nine days in darkness until two British divers found them, before their drawn-out rescue that captivated global attention.

Thai cave rescue: How each boy is extracted in complex process

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    The 10-km long Tham Luang cave, which has been described as a labyrinth, sits near the Thai border with Myanmar.

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    Rescue divers began operations on Sunday (July 8) to extract the 12 boys and their football coach from the massive Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

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    Here's how the 12 boys might dive and walk out of the complex cave network. (Graphic Not drawn to scale)

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    The boys are located more than 4km from the mouth of the cave. Most of the boys don't know how to swim.

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    According to experts, divers required three hours to reach the boys from the mouth of the cave, Reuters reported. The boys' ordeal is expected to last 3 or more hours.

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    This undated handout photo taken recently and released by the Royal Thai Navy on July 7, 2018 shows a Thai Navy diver in the cave during rescue operations.

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    The boys will have to first dive for 400m before reaching Pattaya Beach, a chamber more than 4km from the cave's entrance. Then, they have to dive for another 130m before walking and climbing along a 400m-long dry area.

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    The first, nearly 1km-long section from where the boys have been huddling in darkness is believed to be the most difficult, requiring a long dive and crawling through mud and debris, with some crevices barely wide enough for a person.

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    The 5-km escape route cuts through dark, flooded and narrow passageways, as this still from a video circulating online shows.

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    How each boy will be tethered to the 2 adult rescue divers. Once past the first stretch, the boys' escape route forks east at a T-junction, and they must scrabble over some diverse terrain including giant boulders, sand and slippery rocks with sudden cliff-like drops and further submerged passageways.

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    The biggest crisis spot is a 38-cm-wide crevice close to the T-junction, known as Sam Yaek Junction.

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    The biggest crisis spot is a 38-cm-wide crevice close to the T-junction, known as Sam Yaek Junction.

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    "The hole is really small, I have to take off my air tank to crawl through it," a 25-year-old Thai Navy Seal told Reuters before the rescue attempt. "As I do, I feel the edges of the hole on both my back and chest."

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    Rescue divers will have to remove their scuba tanks and roll them along while guiding the boys through. After that though, the tunnels widen, the waters subside, and walking is even possible.

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    There are several 'choke points' in the complex cave network. After the dreaded T-junction, the rest of the journey is expected to be relatively safe as they will have reached a forward operating base inside the cave.

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    Ambulances wait at the mouth of the cave to whisk the boys away to hospital when they emerge.

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    Divers resuming the rescue mission on Monday (July 9).

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    Police and military personnel use umbrellas to cover around a stretcher near a helicopter and an ambulance at a military airport in Chiang Rai on July 9, 2018.

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    Rescuers venturing into the cave in a photo released on July 7 by the Thai Royal Navy.

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    The high-risk operation at the Tham Luang caves paused overnight on Sunday (July 8) as rescuers recovered and oxygen tanks were replenished along the route.

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    Torchlight only affords visibility up to three feet in the murky waters.

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    A nearby hospital ready to receive the boys after they are rescued.

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