Aussie doctor pushes on in Thai rescue despite past caving tragedy

The Australian doctor tasked with helping to rescue the trapped soccer team in northern Thailand is no stranger to challenging cave extractions.

Adelaide anaesthetist and underwater cave explorer Richard “Harry” Harris on Saturday made the treacherous journey to the chamber where the boys have been trapped underground for 15 days.

The 53-year-old was specifically requested by British divers due to his 30 years experience.

That experience includes confronting personal tragedy. In 2011 he had the difficult task of recovering the body of his friend, cave diver Agnes Milowka.

Anaesthetist and underwater cave explorer Richard “Harry” Harris risked his life to help rescue the boys trapped in the Thai cave.  Photo: AAP

Ms Milowka ran out of air in Tank Cave at Millicent, near Mount Gambier in South Australia while exploring  seven kilometres of underwater passages.

After becoming separated from her dive buddy, she was trapped in the cave and her body was found overnight.

Dr Harris, who has led record-breaking cave explorations, continues to play a key role in the international effort to rescue the remaining boys and their coach.

In 2011 and 2012, he led a team of Aussie divers to record depths of 194 and 221 metres in what’s believed to be one of the world’s deepest cold water caves, searching for the source of the Pearse River.

Mr Harris in 2011 had the difficult task of recovering the body of his friend, cave diver Agnes Milowka. Photo: Facebook/ AMP Agnes Milowka Project

He filmed the dangerous and complex mission for National Geographic.

It required the team to set up a series of survival pods at intervals to allow divers to decompress, rest and eat in the near-freezing waters along the length of an underwater river – an experience that could prove invaluable in the current rescue mission.

Dr Harris’s dive team also had to contend with fast flowing water, as is the case in parts of the Thai cave complex, in water that was near freezing point.

The trapped boys who were awaiting rescue in the Tham Luang cave . Photo: Thai Navy