Thai cave rescue: Richard "Harry" Harris heroic efforts recognised

Picture: supplied
Picture: supplied

Tragedy has struck the Australian doctor at the heart of the rescue of a young Thai soccer team with the unexpected death of his father in Adelaide, soon after his heroic mission was completed.

Adelaide anaesthetist and underwater cave explorer Richard "Harry" Harris risked his own life to make the treacherous journey to the underground chamber where the group of 13 had been trapped for two weeks.

But soon after the rescue reached its successful climax on Tuesday, Dr Harris' father Jim passed away in what his boss and colleague at Adelaide's medical retrieval service said was a "complete, unexpected shock".

"Earlier this morning, Harry's father passed away here in Adelaide," MedSTAR clinical director Andrew Pearce told reporters on Wednesday.

"Harry was aware of that as it happened, and, as most of you know, that was after they'd all come out of the cave successfully."

Dr Pearce said Dr Harris did not undertake the rescue mission knowing his father was near death.

"We're never really ready for it but expect it, but Harry and his family need to come together now to come to terms and deal with the grief," he said.

"Harry's dad would have been extremely proud that he would have put himself out there to do what he's able to do."

Dr Harris was described as "essential" to the rescue operation because of his unique skills and expertise, including 30 years of cave diving and his work as a medical retrieval specialist.

He was asked by name to join the rescue mission after his abilities had earned him a worldwide reputation.

The last of the 12 Thai boys and their team coach were extracted from the cave system in northern Thailand overnight on Tuesday.

In a joint statement Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, Defence Minister Marise Payne and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton made special mention of Dr Harris in congratulating those involved in the rescue effort.

"We congratulate all of those involved, including Dr Richard Harris and his dive partner Craig Challen, as well as our Australian Federal Police divers and personnel from the Australian Defence Force and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who provided logistics and planning expertise," the statement said.

"The rescue mission was made possible by a remarkable example of international cooperation.

"Australia has been proud to work with Thailand and other countries to achieve this extraordinary outcome."

Dr Pearce said he had spoken with Dr Harris who would be coming home soon to take a well-earned break.

"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," he said.

"It has been a tumultuous week with highs and lows.

"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.

"Harry is a quiet and kind man who did not think twice about offering his support on this mission."

Australian Associated Press