House debates

Monday, 20 August 2018


Thailand: Cave Rescue

11:02 am

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes with great relief that the young boys trapped in the caves in Thailand have all been rescued;

(2) congratulates the:

(a) Thai authorities on managing a successful rescue mission; and

(b) international effort to support the Thai authorities and bring the boys out;

(3) especially recognises the Australian support to the rescue mission;

(4) recognises Dr Richard Harris and Dr Craig Challen for their heroic actions during the rescue and their awarding of the Medal of the Order of Australia and the Star of Courage;

(5) further recognises the awarding of the Medal of the Order of Australia and the Bravery Medal to Troy Either, Robert James, Kelly Boers, Benjamin Cox, Matthew Fitzgerald, Justin Bateman and Chris Markcrow for their brave actions during the rescue;

(6) notes with sadness the tragic death of the Royal Thai Navy SEAL veteran during the rescue mission; and

(7) warmly congratulates all involved in the rescue mission and gives thanks for their courage and heroism.

Imagine for a moment you're in a pitch black space, cold water rushing all around you, and you're scrambling desperately to find some dry ground, but the water level just keeps rising. You're dressed in nothing but a light soccer uniform. You're cold, wet, hungry and scared. You're huddled together with your mates, hoping and praying that you'll see your families again and get to kick a soccer ball on the field again. You pray that you'll get out of the cave alive and see the light of day.

That is exactly what 12 young men of the Wild Boars soccer team and their young coach encountered when they found themselves deep in the Tham Luang cave system in northern Thailand after what was supposed to be an after-training excursion on 23 June. The excursion led them deep into the complex, kilometres-long cave system. Deep underground they became trapped when the caves were flooded with monsoonal rains. A massive search and rescue operation was quickly launched. It required divers experienced in the dangerous pursuit of cave diving. That's being underwater in scuba gear in openings as small as 40 centimetres—certainly not a job for the faint-hearted or a novice diver.

The government of Thailand put out a call for assistance to help their over 1,000 personnel, including Royal Thai Navy SEALs. Specialists from Australia, Britain, Japan, China, Myanmar and Laos and the US were involved. The Australian government provided the AFP's Specialist Response Group together with support from the ADF and DFAT. They played a key role in the rescue of the 12 boys and their coach. The AFP Specialist Response Group was supported by a contingent including the clearance diver from the Royal Australian Navy, who was part of the diving team working to free the boys and their coach. This group was supported by air crew, logistics, professionals and diplomatic staff here in Australia and on the ground in Thailand—skilled professionals who all contributed their expertise to help get these young boys out of the caves safe and well. The professionals exhibited the very best of the Australian spirit of helping out a mate. The rescuers were working in dark, cramped and dangerous conditions, flooded chambers with visibility limited to seeing the next rock only when you hit it.

The tragic death of a former Royal Thai Navy SEAL, from a lack of oxygen, brought home to all of us how dangerous the rescue mission was. I think it was at this point that so many of us feared the boys may not come out alive. The British divers found the boys and a rescue mission was hatched. It was hazardous—with poor visibility, debris and constricted passageways, and further rainfall predicted. We saw the boys in the headlamps of the divers. They had big smiles. They were very cold but they were alive and smiling. With the help of two Australian doctors—Richard 'Harry' Harris and Craig Challen—a plan was conceived, trained personnel and local children rehearsed above the ground, and evacuation procedures were drilled to perfection. Drs Harris and Challen dived in to the boys several times, making sure of their wellbeing and assessing them for extraction. We know the details and we know what great care was taken. Dr Harris and Dr Challen were in the cave for the entire rescue mission. I want to acknowledge their conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril. These are the words set out on the Star of Courage, which both Dr Harris and Dr Challen were awarded.

Another part of the Australian contribution was chief petty officer and clearance diver Troy Eather who joined the rescue efforts. There were so many involved who were noted for their bravery. Senior Constable Justin Bateman, Leading Senior Constable Kelly Boers, Detective Leading Senior Constable Benjamin Cox, First Constable Matthew Fitzgerald, Acting Station Sergeant Robert James, Detective Leading Senior Constable Christopher Markcrow and Chief Petty Officer and Clearance Diver Troy Eather were all awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia as well as the Group Bravery Citation.

When we look at what happened here, we were all desperately worried. But we were very proud of the efforts of everyone involved—in particular, Dr Harris and Dr Challen, who were awarded the Star of Courage. The Group Bravery Citation, which I mentioned earlier, is awarded for a collective act of bravery by a group of people in extraordinary circumstances. In addition to the Medal of the Order of Australia, Dr Harris and Dr Challen were also awarded the Star of Courage, our second-highest bravery decoration, in recognition of the crucial part they played in the whole rescue operation. In this House, we salute the brave Australians and everybody involved in the rescue of these young men and their coach.


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