thai cave diver
Australian diver opens up about rescuing Thai boys from cave
01:24 - Source: CNN
Chiang Rai, Thailand CNN  — 

An Australian doctor involved in freeing 12 young soccer players and their coach from caves in northern Thailand learned later that his father had died as the rescue effort was winding down.

The father of Richard Harris, a key member of the team of international experts involved in the dramatic rescue mission, died soon after all the boys were freed.

Harris, an anesthetist and underwater cave explorer who is also known as Harry, was the last man out of the cave Tuesday.

“Early this morning Harry’s father passed away here in Adelaide… after they’d all come out of the cave,” said Andrew Pearce, of the MedSTAR rescue service.

Pearce said Harris had “given his all, his family have given the support and we’ve given the support as well as an organization.”

“If you can imagine being physically and mentally exhausted going through a rescue and having to deal with that, when you’re at your lowest ebb, you’ve given it all and then you find out the sad news about your father, who’s your best mate – that’s really, really tough,” Pearce said.

He added that the team would be working to support Harris and his family, and requested they be given time and space to grieve.

Described in a South Australia Ambulance Service statement as a “quiet and kind man” who “didn’t think twice about offering his support on this mission,” Harris was lauded for his work throughout the rescue effort.

“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 mission.”

Harris’ colleagues and fellow rescuers lauded his commitment to the mission and how vital his expertise was in bringing the boys out to safety.

“On behalf of the operation unit, we want to send our condolences to him and I do have to thank him a lot,” Thai mission commander Narongsak Osotthanakorn said at a news conference Wednesday.

“Without him, in this operation, I don’t think we could have succeeded.”

Steve George reported from Thailand, James Griffiths wrote from Hong Kong. CNN staff contributed reporting.