Australian doctor and expert diver Richard Harris emerged from a cave in Thailand on Tuesday night knowing all 12 boys and their soccer coach had been saved, only to learn his own father had died.
Dr Harris was hailed a hero, having made the dangerous, four-kilometre journey in and out of Tham Luang cave every day to check on the health of the trapped boys.
Dr Andrew Pearce from South Australia’s Ambulance Service’s medical retrieval service confirmed the news of Dr Harris’ father’s death, saying it had been a “tumultuous week with highs and lows”.
“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,” he said in a statement.
“He will be coming home soon and taking some well-earned time off to be with his family. He has asked that the family’s privacy is respected at this time.”
The circumstances of Dr Harris’ father’s death are unknown.
Dr Harris, an anaesthetist and expert cave rescue diver from South Australia, had played an “integral part” in the rescue operation in north-western Thailand, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said earlier on Wednesday.
He has attracted international attention after his presence was specifically requested by the British diving team for his skills in cave diving rescue and his expertise in hyperbaric medicine.
Not only was Dr Harris the person who signed off on the health of the trapped boys, allowing the rescue mission to go ahead, he also personally assessed each boy before their rescue to make sure they were well enough to make the journey to safety.
He left the cave each day only after the last rescued boy had gone.
“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,” Dr Pearce said.
Dr Pearce said the whole team at South Australia Ambulance Service was “incredibly proud” of the work Dr Harris had done.
“Harry is a quiet and kind man who did not think twice about offering his support on this mission,” he said.
“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.”
Talking to Sunrise on Wednesday morning, Ms Bishop also praised Dr Harris’ effort in Thailand.
“Dr Harris is an extraordinary Australian and he has certainly made a big difference to the rescue effort here in Thailand,” she said.
Ms Bishop said Dr Harris was internationally renowned for his cave rescue expertise, and headed a cave rescue operation.
She said the South Australian anaesthetist was well known to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for his help on its medical assistance teams during natural disasters in the Pacific region and his time working at the Port Villa hospital in Vanuatu with the Australian Aid program.
Ms Bishop said the government was “just delighted” with the work of Dr Harris and his dive partner Craig Challen, who is a vet from Perth.
“Between them, and the rest of the Australian team, I believe we were an integral part to the overall rescue,” she said.
David Strike, a dive event organiser who has known Dr Harris for more than a decade, told Fairfax Media Dr Harris and the other members of the international team who helped rescue the boys were all heroes.
“Richard is just one member of a team of uniquely qualified and extraordinary people prepared to sacrifice their own comfort, safety and wellbeing for the benefit of others,” he said.
“It’s an over-used term, but all of those involved are true heroes.”
Source : SMH