Soda called it “mind blowing” and said it “moved me as a story of humanity greater than any story I’ve ever heard.”
On Friday morning, mates Dr Richard Harris, from Adelaide, and Dr Craig Challen, from Perth, joined Jess Adamson and Mark Soderstrom in the Mix102.3 studio.
Richard (or ‘Harry’) is an anaesthetist, while Craig is a retired vet. They are better known as avid cave divers who together led the most remarkable rescue of 12 boys and their coach from a cave in Thailand.
“It is the good news story of probably the decade and if I can deliver that then how lucky am I,” Craig said as he began to tell the story again to Jess and Soda.
Soda summed up our sentiment towards them best: “When we look at society and people put people up on a pedestal like Kim bloody Kardashian. You guys – Craig Challen and Richard Harris – you are the guys that people should put on a pedestal.
“We are very, very proud that you are Australians and you are part of our great country.”
Watch the video above as Australians of the Year Dr Richard Harris and Dr Craig Challen recount the most remarkable story of survival you’ll ever hear.
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Soda: “When we look at society and people put other people up on a pedestal like Kim bloody Kardashian. You guys – Craig Challen and Richard Harris – you are the guys that people should put on a pedestal. We are very, very proud that you are Australians and you are part of our great country.” 🙌 Fair to say we are all very honoured to have the Thai cave rescuers, and Australians of the year, in the Mix102.3 studio this morning.
The Thai soccer team had wandered into the Tham Luang cave in Northern Thailand in June 2018, not knowing that monsoon rains were sending floodwater their way, blocking the exit from the cave.
They were trapped for two weeks until Australian divers Richard and Craig spearheaded the operation to save them, working up to 16 hours a day to make a safe passage for everyone involved.
The pair have detailed their incredible feat in the book Against All Odds but we got a first hand telling of the story this morning.
“I thought there was 0 chance they were getting out,” Dr Harris told us.
“The risks of immersing someone who had been anesthetised for three hours and taking them through a flooded passageway it seemed overwhelming, it just seemed insurmountable.”
The risks the two faced were not only physical but they put their professional livelihoods on the line as well, with threats hanging over them that they could end up in Thai prison if it went wrong.
“There’s 13 people in the cave and they’re going to die so what’s the choice,” Dr Challen said.
“A lot was made of the physical risk to us but we did not regard that as a big thing. We’ve been in a lot gnarlier caves than that. But there was a lot of talk about professional risk especially for ‘Harry’ (Richard Harris) and there was a suggestion we’d end up in the Thai judicial system if things went horribly wrong but that was not a consideration for us – we were just going to charge in and do it and hope for the best afterwards.”
Richard said he “was pretty pessimistic throughout the rescue”, admitting he started off thinking there was “zero chance” of getting them out.
“I think the last day when eight were out successfully I allowed myself a little room for optimism then. But until then I was just absolutely certain that it wasn’t going to work and these boys were going to die,” he said.
Part of the plan involved Richard giving instructions to other members of the rescue team on how to administer anaesthetic injections to the children, who needed to be ‘under’ for more than three hours.
“I had a very attentive audience, I’ve never had such students playing so much attention,” Richard said with a laugh.
“I gave a quick chat on how to give the injection, how to recognise when to give it, and how to try and look after the kids airways underwater.
“We didn’t have long for them to learn that. For Craig it was fine, he’s done a lot of medical stuff but think about the other guys – you’ve got a retired firemen, a rope access worker, a couple of IT guys, some dive instructors, not exactly critical care specialist so it’s a testament to their courage and pragmatism that they took this on.”
Another amazing element of the story was the attitude of the boys. Having spent nine days in the cave before they were even found, then another five days before the operation to move them out even began, the boys still remained totally unaware of the impact and repercussions of what was happening to them.
The rescue team had decided that they would attempt to move “the strongest and fittest” boys out of the cave first “because we really felt like we needed a confidence boost and we needed to prove the plan would work”.
“But once I swam off after the instruction had been given…. the coach then apparently turned to the kids and said ‘lads you can sort this out amongst yourself’,” Richard had found out later.
“The boys had a bit of a huddle and decided the kids that lived the furthest distance away would go out first because they believed when they came out they’d have to ride their bikes home.
“They clearly had no real understanding of what we were proposing to do.”
It’s a story that will no doubt become a movie at some stage, and wherever Craig and Richard go and tell their story, they are continually met by total shock and wonder at such an achievement.
Soda heard Richard speak at a luncheon and said the ensuing standing ovation was the most heartfelt and genuine response to a speech he had ever seen.
Richard agreed it was “the perfectly laid out” story.
“The timing – nine days (of) ‘are they alive or are they dead’, everyone assumes they wouldn’t have survived that flood. Then suddenly they’re alive but there’s no way to get them out and then one by one we slowly drip feed the media with these boys popping out one at a time,” Richard said.
“Then there’s the final moment when the cave floods again and half the emergency services are trapped in there.
“It’s an extraordinary story and the more I think about it, the more amazing I think it is.”