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The untold story of the daring cave divers who saved the Thai soccer team

Discussion in 'Search and Rescue' started by kelemvor, Mar 6, 2019.

  1. Compressor

    Compressor ScubaBoard Supporter Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: NYS
  2. Dr Simon Mitchell

    Dr Simon Mitchell Medical Moderator Staff Member


    I was invited by the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland to write a citation for Harry in receipt of their Pask Award. The text is pasted below and speaks for itself. Anyone inspired by the rescue will probably find it interesting. I have also attached the pdf of the citation.

    Simon M


    Dr Richard (Harry) Harris was born in Adelaide, Australia, and completed his medical degree at Flinders University. He was awarded his Fellowship of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists in 1998. From childhood Harry was a passionate diver, and more latterly developed expertise in cave diving; known for its lethal potential for becoming lost and exhausting one’s gas supply. His unique combination of anaesthesia training and reputation as a world class cave diver destined him to become a central player in what history will record as arguably the most extraordinary search and rescue mission ever undertaken.

    On 23 June 2018 twelve boys and their soccer coach entered the Tham Luang cave in Thailand for a team building experience. Torrential rain caused the cave to flood and forced the boys to retreat over 2.5 kilometres underground where they became trapped by long convoluted passageways filled with fast flowing murky water that was not expected to recede for months. It was nine days before British divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen found them and laid the line that facilitated access to their refuge through zero visibility water by other dive teams. Elation at finding the children was rapidly tempered by the realisation that the only viable option for their rescue was diving them out through a cave system that was proving challenging to some of the world’s best cave divers, and which tragically claimed the life of a Thai Navy SEAL. It seemed impossible that untrained non-swimming children could make this arduous underwater journey without panicking and drowning.

    Harry was asked to undertake multiple risky dives into the cave and to consider deeply sedating each child who would then be brought out by an escorting diver. Published guidelines expressly discourage attempts to keep unconscious divers underwater because of difficulty protecting the airway and the danger of drowning. But Harry judged that he had little choice but to set aside these guidelines and embark on a hazardous procedure never before undertaken. With no monitoring or immediate support, he calmly anaesthetised each child with oral alprazolam and intramuscular ketamine. He supervised the critical processes of fitting the full-face diving masks to protect the airway, and deployment of the children with the escorting divers.

    Using this approach every child and the coach were safely brought out of the cave to unprecedented international acclaim.

    The general public will never fully appreciate the enormous responsibility that Harry voluntarily assumed in this rescue, but anaesthetists are uniquely placed to understand it. When managing a desperately ill patient for whom hazardous intervention is the only option that may save life, we may rationalise bad outcomes by telling ourselves “we had no choice and did our best”. But that same rationalisation would have been of little comfort to Harry when contemplating a repetitive, unconventional and dangerous anaesthetic intervention in healthy boys whose fate was being watched by the entire world, and whose desperate parents and families were waiting outside. The implications of even one adverse outcome are as obvious as they are unpalatable, and seen through that lens, Harry’s actions were not only technically expert but also extraordinarily courageous.

    Harry is known in both the diving and medical communities as an extremely modest, unassuming, quiet achiever. Although grateful, he would be very uncomfortable receiving this award without acknowledgement of his steadfast view that he was part of a large team, and that all its members contributed significantly to the outcome. Harry would also undoubtedly want to acknowledge his wife Fiona and their children James, Charlie and Millie who have spent many long and often anxious days waiting for him to return from cave diving expeditions.

    Finally, it remains to observe the palpable similarities between Harry and the patron of this award. Dr Pask was another who was prepared to push boundaries and take personal risks in pursuit of scientific truth and better outcomes for all. There no doubt he would be proud to see his eponymous award go to Dr Richard Harris.

    Professor Simon Mitchell
    Head of The Department of Anaesthesiology
    University of Auckland, New Zealand

    Attached Files:

    ChuckP, RayfromTX, Schwob and 19 others like this.
  3. tursiops

    tursiops Marine Scientist and Master Instructor ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: U.S. East Coast
    Most excellent.
  4. TrimixToo

    TrimixToo Regular of the Pub

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: New York State
    Somehow, a mere "like" seems insufficient. Outstanding! The people on that team are my heroes.
    Micheal and dberry like this.
  5. Jay

    Jay Need to dive more!

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Melbourne, OZ.
    I remembered sharing a 'random thought' in the earlier thread about anaesthetising them and using a FFM but someone told me it wasn't very practical and high risk. That was on the second day after they were located and the first day of their diving lessons. Now I know the difference between anesthesia and sedation :) Sedation and General Anesthesia: What’s the Difference?
    Compressor likes this.
  6. Schwob

    Schwob Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Illinois

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