Richard Harris (anaesthetist)



Richard Harris

Craig Challen and Richard Harris.jpg
Harris (right) with Craig Challen
Richard James Dunbar Harris
Known forTham Luang cave rescue
Medical career

Richard "Harry" Harris, SC, OAM, is an Australian anaesthetist and cave diver who played a crucial role in the Tham Luang cave rescue. He and Craig Challen were jointly awarded 2019 Australian of the Year as a result of that rescue.

Medical career

After completing school at St Peter's College, Adelaide, Harris completed a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at Flinders University in 1988, he subsequently completed anaesthetics training in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Harris works as an aeromedical consultant and anaesthetist for the South Australian Ambulance Service’s medical retrieval service, he has also worked on medical assistance teams in natural disasters in the Pacific region and taken part in Australian Aid missions to Vanuatu.[1][2]

Cave diving

Harris is a cave diver with over 30 years of experience. Harris's cave diving experiences include leading a team of Australian divers to record depths of 192 and 221 metres (210 and 242 yd) in 2011 and 2012 whilst searching for the source of New Zealand's Pearse River, the mission was filmed for National Geographic. In 2011, Harris was requested by the South Australian Police to participate in the recovery of the body of his close friend Agnes Milowka, who had died whilst exploring a cave near Tantanoola in the south east of South Australia.[3][4]

In 2009 Harris was awarded the "Outstanding Achievement" award at the Australian technical diving conference Oztek, to mark his exceptional contributions to cave diving exploration, in 2017 he was awarded the "Australasian Technical Diver of the Year" at Oztek.[5][6]

Tham Luang cave rescue

In June 2018 Harris was about to depart on a cave diving holiday to the Nullarbor Plain when he and dive partner Craig Challen were requested by the Thai government, on the advice of British cave diving experts attempting to rescue twelve Thai children and their soccer coach who were trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system, to provide assistance with the rescue efforts.[2][7]

Harris' efforts throughout the rescue have been described as essential; he conducted a medical assessment of all of the trapped boys and it was on his advice that the authorities reversed their initial strategy of rescuing the strongest boys first, followed by the weakest. Harris decided the order in which the boys would be extracted and advised on the method to be used. To allow the rescue to occur Harris administered a sedative to the boys, ensuring they did not panic during the rescue. Harris and Challen were the last members of the rescue team out of the caves following the rescue.[1]

On 24 July 2018 Harris, along with Challen, was awarded the Star of Courage (SC) and Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) by the Governor-General of Australia.[8] On 7 September 2018 the King of Thailand appointed Harris as a Knight Grand Cross (First Class) of the Most Admirable Order of the Direkgunabhorn.[9]

On Australia Day 2019, Harris was announced as the joint 2019 Australian of the Year with Challen.[10]

On 5 November 2019 Doctors Harris and Challen, released the book Against All Odds[11] chronicling their participation in the rescue of the boys from the Tham Luang Cave. In the book and in radio interviews promoting the book they corrected some of the inaccuracies in the media regarding the rescue. He stated that he did not pick the order that the boys would leave the cave, and that the boys decided that amongst themselves based on the distance each boy lived from the cave. He also said the boys were fully unconscious as they were carried through the flooded cave, as he had given each boy two intramuscular injections in the thigh: Ketamine to put them to sleep, and Atropine to suppress saliva production to stop choking.


  1. ^ a b Andrews, Megan (30 July 2018). "Exemplary alumnus wins bravery award – and SA Australian of the Year". Flinders University. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Cave rescue: The Australian diving doctor who stayed with the boys". BBC. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  3. ^ Graham, Ben; Brook, Benedict (11 July 2018). "Calls for Aussie cave diver to be given Australian of the Year award".
  4. ^ "Tragedy behind Dr Richard Harris' Thai cave rescue credentials". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 July 2018.
  5. ^ "Richard Harris". OzTek. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  6. ^ "2019 SA Australian of the Year: Dr Richard Harris SC OAM". Australian of the Year Awards. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  7. ^ Hancock, Sarah; Dayman, Isabel; Puddy, Rebecca (9 July 2018). "Thai cave rescue: Adelaide cave-diving doctor Richard Harris missed holiday to help operation". ABC News. Australia. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  8. ^ "Australian honours, 24 July 2018" (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. Governor-General of Australia. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  9. ^ "His Majesty honours 188 for role in cave rescue operation". The Nation. Thailand. 7 September 2018.
  10. ^ "2019 Australian of the Year: Dr Richard Harris OAM and Dr Craig Challen SC OAM". Australian of the Year Awards. 25 January 2019. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  11. ^ Harris Challen (2019). Against All Odds. Penguin Books Australia. ISBN 9781760890957.

External links

  • National Geographic, "Record Cave Dive Leaves Mystery", published 3 May 2011.
  • Wet Mules homepage