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Richard Harris (anaesthetist)

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

Richard Harris SC, OAM, is an Australian anaesthetist and cave diver who is currently the Lieutenant Governor of South Australia. Harris is best known for having 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. Harris was appointed as South Australia's Lieutenant-Governor in 2024, and was sworn in on 9 February 2024.[1]

Education and career[edit]

After completing school at St Peter's College in Adelaide, South Australia, 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.[2][3]

Harris has worked on medical assistance teams in natural disasters in the Pacific region and taken part in Australian Aid missions to Vanuatu. As of 2018 he works as an aeromedical consultant and anaesthetist for the South Australian Ambulance Service's medical retrieval service.[2][3]

In January 2024 it was announced that Harris was to become the Lieutenant Governor of South Australia.[4]

Cave diving[edit]

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, 221 and 245 m (210, 242 and 268 yd) in 2011, 2012, and 2020[5] whilst searching for the source of New Zealand's Pearse River: this 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.[6][7]

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.[8][9]

Tham Luang cave rescue[edit]

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.[3][10]

Harris' efforts throughout the rescue have been described as essential; he conducted a medical assessment of all of the trapped boys. At the 18 July press conference, it was revealed that the soccer team decided as a group that the boys who lived the farthest away should leave first, so they could ride their bikes home.[11]

To allow the rescue to occur, Harris developed a plan to keep the boys anaesthetised with ketamine while spontaneously breathing through full face masks. This was to ensure they did not panic during the long extrication through underwater caves, which would have endangered both the rescue scuba divers and the boys. While one source states that Harris was the last rescuer to leave the cave,[2] this is not at all correct according to Harris' own detailed account of the rescue.[12]: 275–276 

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.[13] 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.[14]

On Australia Day 2019, Harris was announced as the joint 2019 Australian of the Year with Challen.[15]

On 5 November 2019 Harris and Challen released the book Against All Odds chronicling their participation in the rescue of the boys from the Tham Luang Cave. In the book they corrected some of the inaccuracies in the media regarding the rescue. Harris 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, as they thought they had to cycle back home. 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.[16]

Lieutenant Governor of South Australia[edit]

On 25 January 2024, Harris was appointed as the lieutenant governor of South Australia.[17] Harris was sworn in on 9 February 2024 by Her Excellency the Honourable Frances Adamson AC.[18]


  • Richard Harris; Craig Challen (2019). Against All Odds. Penguin. ISBN 9781760899455.

Harris has published two children's picture books, based on his family's pet dog:

  • Richard Harris; Simon Howe (ill.) (2022). Alfie the Brave. Puffin. ISBN 9781761041358.
  • Richard Harris; Simon Howe (ill.) (2024). Alfie the Kind. Puffin. ISBN 9781761341328.


  1. ^ Service worthy of particular recognition.


  1. ^ "Thai cave rescue hero appointed South Australia's Lieutenant Governor". ABC News. 25 January 2024. Retrieved 31 January 2024.
  2. ^ a b c Andrews, Megan (30 July 2018). "Exemplary alumnus wins bravery award – and SA Australian of the Year". Flinders University. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "Cave rescue: The Australian diving doctor who stayed with the boys". BBC News. 11 July 2018. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  4. ^ "Thai cave rescue hero appointed South Australia's Lieutenant Governor". ABC News. 25 January 2024. Retrieved 31 January 2024.
  5. ^ Harris, Richard (2020). "The Pearce Resurgence". Explorations. Seacraft. Retrieved 18 June 2023.
  6. ^ Graham, Ben; Brook, Benedict (11 July 2018). "Calls for Aussie cave diver to be given Australian of the Year award". news.com.au.
  7. ^ "Tragedy behind Dr Richard Harris' Thai cave rescue credentials". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 July 2018.
  8. ^ "Richard Harris". OzTek. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  9. ^ "Dr Richard Harris SC OAM". Australian of the Year Awards. Archived from the original on 16 January 2021. Retrieved 21 February 2022.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "Thai cave rescue: Boys who lived furthest away were chosen to leave the cave first so they could ride their bikes and tell everyone to prepare food". Business Insider. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  12. ^ Harris, Richard; Challen, Craig (2019). Against all odds: The inside account of the Thai cave rescue and the courageous Australians at the heart of it. Penguin Books. ISBN 9781760899455.
  13. ^ "Australian honours, 24 July 2018" (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. Governor-General of Australia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 July 2018. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  14. ^ "His Majesty honours 188 for role in cave rescue operation". The Nation. Thailand. 7 September 2018.
  15. ^ "Dr Richard Harris SC OAM and Dr Craig Challen SC OAM". Australian of the Year Awards. 25 January 2019. Archived from the original on 5 August 2020. Retrieved 21 February 2022.
  16. ^ Harris, Richard; Challen, Craig (2019). Against All Odds. Penguin Books Australia. ISBN 9781760890957.
  17. ^ "Thai cave rescue hero appointed South Australia's Lieutenant Governor". ABC News. 25 January 2024. Retrieved 31 January 2024.
  18. ^ "Dr Richard Harris appointed Lieutenant Governor". Premier of South Australia. 25 January 2024. Retrieved 31 January 2024.

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