One of the first calls that Richard Harris, the Australian doctor instrumental in helping rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded Thai cave, was asked to make might come as a bit of a surprise.
Dr Harris, who dived through narrow chokepoints in the Tham Luang cave every day to be with the stranded group, wasn’t calling who you’d think – closest family or friends – he was calling the Australian Prime Minister.
Malcolm Turnbull had asked Dr Harris to telephone and let him know he was safe the moment the long and complex rescue operation was over.
Dr Harris is part of an Australian team that contributed to the massive international effort to extract the boys and their coach from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand, which had become flooded during a monsoonal downpour.
He joined six Australian Federal Police divers and an Australian Defence Force clearance diver as part of the Australian team involved in rescue operations.
Along with Chinese and American divers, the AFP and ADF divers were based in chamber three, approximately 1.5 km into the cave system.
Their job was to help in the preparation of air tanks and to organise the movement of supplies back and forth along the cave system.
While the AFP divers were not required to work in the flooded section of chamber nine, where the 13 were trapped, Dr Harris was.
Every day he worked his way through the cave system to ensure the health and wellbeing of those waiting to be rescued.
The Adelaide anaesthetist and underwater cave explorer was specifically requested by British divers because of his 30-year experience.
Last Saturday he made his first treacherous foray to the chamber, where the boys had already been trapped for 15 days.
It’s believed that Dr Harris’s initial triage treatment of the boys on Saturday helped to determine the timeline on who was rescued first in the complex operation.
Dr Harris was an integral part of the rescue effort despite having faced personal tragedy in the past.
In 2011, he had to recover the body of his friend, diver Agnes Milowka, after she ran out of air in Tank Cave at Millicent, near Mount Gambier in South Australia, while exploring seven kilometres of underwater passages.