Tragedy for Aussie doctor who helped save Thai cave boys

Tragedy has struck the Australian doctor at the heart of the rescue of a young Thai soccer team with the death of his father, soon after his mission was completed.

Adelaide anaesthetist and underwater cave explorer Richard “Harry” Harris risked his own life to make the treacherous journey to the underground chamber where the group was trapped for two weeks.

But as the rescue was completed on Tuesday Dr Harris’ father passed away, his boss and MedSTAR clinical director Andrew Pearce said.

“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,” Dr Pearce said in a statement on Wednesday.

“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.

The father of Thai cave hero Richard Harris died soon after the rescue mission was completed. Source: AAP

“He will be coming home soon and taking some well-earned time off to be with his family.”

Dr Harris was described as “essential” to the rescue operation because of his unique skills and expertise, including 30 years of cave diving experience and his work as a medical retrieval specialist with South Australia’s MedSTAR service.

Dr Pearce has described his colleague as “an interesting character” who would not have hesitated for a second in answering the call for his help.

“Harry is selfless, he is extremely thoughtful. He’s a quiet person. He is the type of guy who will give of his all,” he said.

“He was actually meant to be on holiday and gave up his holiday so that he could be part of this.”

Dr Pearce said Dr Harris was known globally both for his work as a doctor and his ability to retrieve people from difficult places.

“All the team at SA Ambulance Service is incredibly proud of Dr Harris,” he said on Wednesday.

“It has been a tumultuous week with highs and lows.

“We are delighted that Harry and the boys are safe and that he was able to play such a remarkable role in the Australian response.

“Harry is a quiet and kind man who did not think twice about offering his support on this mission.”

The last of the 12 children and their team coach were extracted from the cave system in northern Thailand overnight on Tuesday.