Aussie hero divers relive Thai cave rescue

Australian divers Craig Challen and Richard Harris have returned home after the Thai rescue

The Australian cave dive experts who took part in the epic rescue of the Wild Boars soccer team in Thailand expected to be helping in a recovery mission when they first arrived at the scene.

Adelaide anaesthetist Dr Richard "Harry" Harris and his dive partner - retired Perth vet Craig Challen - were among an international team of cave-diving experts who freed 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave.

They arrived on July 5, three days after the boys were found and Mr Challen said when he and Dr Harris arrived at the cave they thought "we were there to do recoveries, so the actual outcome was unbelievably good".

"It was absolutely life and death. We didn't expect to be getting 13 people out of there alive," he Mr Challen told Perth's Sunday Times on his return to Australia.

He said the diving wasn't the difficult part of the rescue, but the age of the boys was.

"(The) fact that you have got a living, breathing little tiny person that you are in charge of and you are very limited as to what you can do to help them, and it is a two hour journey out of the cave ... it was taxing."

He said the boys were sedated to keep them calm.

"We could not have panicking kids in there, they would have killed themselves and possibly killed the rescuer as well."

Dr Harris, who returned to Adelaide, said it was an amazing experience but he now wanted to return to normal life.

"Some moments of significant fear I have to say, a great result and some really joyous moments to finish."

Speaking publicly on Saturday for the first time since returning, Dr Harris said his father's death coming shortly after the successful rescue had been a bittersweet moment.

"I'm hoping to get back to work, go through the funeral and celebrate Dad's life and get everything back to normal as absolutely quickly as possible," he told reporters on Saturday.

The anaesthetist's medical training and 30 years of experience diving some of the world's deepest and most challenging caves meant he played a critical role in the rescue operation.

Dr Harris commended the diving team and wider community response, in a Facebook post written as he flew back to Australia on an RAAF plane.

He said the British and local divers' skills and efforts to blaze the trail to the boys "cannot be underestimated" and he also praised the large teams of workers who pumped water out of the cave to keep water levels inside low.

"I have never seen anything like it with man battling to control the natural forces of the monsoon waters," Dr Harris posted.

The post has received more than 50,000 comments and likes with one Thai person telling Dr Harris his father "was the proudest father in the world on his last day".

Thousands of people are calling on Dr Harris and Dr Challen to be presented with Australia's highest civilian bravery award, the Cross of Valour, with a change.org petition approaching 40,000 signatures.