The Australian doctor who was the last person to leave the cave in Thailand after the rescue of 12 boys and their football coach emerged from the darkness only to discover his own father had died while he was underground.
Dr Richard “Harry” Harris, an anesthetist as well as an experienced cave diver, played a key role in the successful international rescue effort that ended in joy and relief on Tuesday.
However, the 53-year-old hero found out shortly after leaving the flooded tunnels that his father had passed away while he was carrying out the rescue operation.
South Australian Ambulance said in a short statement that the doctor had suffered 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,” Dr Andrew Pearce, MedSTAR’s director of clinical services, said.
“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 Harris, who was among 19 Australian personnel involved in the operation, made the dangerous two-and-a-half mile journey in and out of Tham Luang cave every day to check on the health of the trapped boys.
Dr Pearce, who did not say how the father had died, 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.”
The rescue of the children and their coach marked the end of a grueling 18-day ordeal that claimed the life of an experienced diver and riveted people worldwide.
Thailand’s Navy SEALs, who were central to the rescue effort, celebrated the feat with a Facebook post on Tuesday evening that read: “All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave,” – a reference to the boys’ football team. “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what.”
Their rescue was followed a few hours later by the safe return of Dr Harris and three SEAL divers who had stayed for days with the boys in their cramped, dry refuge.
Thailand cave rescue, in pictures
Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister, had singled out Dr Harris for praise for helping “to make the decisions about the order in which the boys were to be extracted”.
Ms Bishop told Sunrise on Wednesday that he was well-known to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for his help on their medical assistance teams during natural disasters in the Pacific region.
“Dr Harris is an extraordinary Australian and he has certainly made a big difference to the rescue effort here in Thailand,” she said.