Thirteen! BRILLIANT!

These two simple words by British diver John Volanthen pumped elation and hope through Thailand’s entire population. The rest of the world started to take notice of what was happening in Chang Rai in Northern Thailand. The Wild Boars football team of twelve young boys and their coach had been found deep inside the Tham Luang cave system by John Volanthen and Rick Stanton who were part of a four-man British technical cave diving team who had been requested to help find the boys.

Much has been reported about the successful process to bring the boys and their coach out of the cave system. This three day “process” involved extracting the team from their ledge 2950m from the cave’s entrance which entailed 1500m by foot and 1450m of diving.

The Thai government can be congratulated for their willingness to seek assistance from the international community. In this part of the world much has been reported about Australian Dr Richard (Harry) Harris, who is an anaesthetist based in Adelaide, and his contribution to the rescue. I have been very fortunate to have spent time with Harry and his diving buddy Craig Challen when they dived on the wreck of the SS Ventnor at 150m off the Northland’s west coast in New Zealand and more recently with Harry and his wife diving the wrecks in Chuuk Lagoon.

Harry and Craig are the divers who have pushed New Zealand’s Nelson Pearse Resurgence cave dive to 228m! They are very competent deep technical divers.

As Harry and Craig head home with members of Australia’s Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) aboard a RAAF C17 they have had time to reflect on what had happened during their eight days involvement. They felt it was necessary to bring things back into perspective. Harry has Ok’ed me copying his Facebook post, which I feel shows the character of these two very humble divers. Following is just part of that post:

In the first part of their post they comment on the assortment of international divers. Harry particularly mentions the four Thai Navy Seals as the real heroes. They stayed with the boys all the time knowing they were in as much danger as the boys.

He also praises the first international cave divers to arrive as part of the rescue attempt. British divers John Volanthen, Rick Stanton, Jason Mallinson and Chris Jewell: “They were doing extraordinary dives through the cave and laying the very robust rope which made all subsequent dives to the soccer team not only possible but safe. The efforts and skill of these guys in blazing this trail cannot be underestimated. Following someone else’s line is very much easier than finding your own way”. Harry’s post further on comments: “I want to write this to try and give credit to all the people who were in some way involved. Craig and I have had a spotlight on our efforts and we want to make everyone realises that while we might have become the face of this rescue for some reason, everyone should know that the role we played was no more or less important than all the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people I have mentioned. The part we played has been made out to be a lot more noble that it actually was, we just consider ourselves lucky to have had some skills that we could contribute to a wonderful outcome”.

I recommend you check out their full Facebook post:

I have had time to reflect and recalled a quote displayed at Body Worlds Vital on Auckland’s Princess wharf. The exhibition had the effect of impressing on you how fragile and complex our bodies are and how precious our “life/time” is. It was fitting and thought provoking that the following words were at the exit to the world outside. I think these words may also reflect how Harry, Craig and many others that were involved in the seemingly impossible rescue live their lives.

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that counts. It’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln

Congratulations to all those involved in providing the skills, courage and the never say never attitude to achieve a remarkable outcome. I think the head of the rescue mission, former Governor of Chiang Rai, Narongsak Osotthanakorn summed up what many were thinking when he was asked re his thoughts about the divers: “The BEST”.

Play it safe out there.

Dave Moran
Editor at Large

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