He Helped Save The Thai Soccer Team, But His First Rescue Mission Ended In Tragedy


After a nerve-racking two-and-a-half weeks, people around the world can rejoice over the fact that all 13 people have been rescued from a cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

In a news story that captivated the world, a youth soccer team and their coach became trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave on June 23. While it was feared the group wouldn’t make it out alive, a team of Thai Navy SEALs and experienced divers from across the globe were able to bring the entire group to safety.

The Fallen

Sadly, the rescue mission resulted in the causality of former Thai Navy SEAL, Saman Gunan. As soon as the 38-year-old heard of the harrowing situation, he immediately volunteered his services, and said in a video that he wanted to “bring the boys back home.”

But unfortunately Gunan’s desire to save the soccer team costed him his own life. The experienced diver passed away in the early morning of July 6 while returning from the cave.

Gunan had used up all of the air in his canisters, and subsequently drowned. Despite efforts to retrieve him, he couldn’t be saved.

But Gunan’s efforts weren’t for naught, and he will remembered for his ultimate sacrifice for the young boys and their coach.

“His effort and determination will always remain the hearts of all divers,” the Thai Navy SEALs wrote in a Facebook post. “May you rest in peace and we will accomplish this mission as you had wished.”

Another Hero

But, Gunan wasn’t the only hero that made it their mission to save the group from the flooded cave.

Dr. Richard Harris traveled all the way from Adelaide, Australia to aid the rescuers with his medical knowledge and experience from other dangerous cave diving missions.

Although the 53-year-old anesthetist has had 30 years of experience, his operations haven’t always been successful. In fact, one of his previous missions ended in tragedy.

In 2011, Harris had volunteered to rescue his friend and fellow cave diver Agnes Milowka.

Milowka had traveled at Tank Cave at Mount Gambier in South Australia when she ran out of air while navigating through a difficult part of the cave.

The experienced cave diver had passed away, and Harris was tasked with retrieving her body.

While that mission brought Harris into the spotlight, the diving expert had been recruited for other important operations in the past as well.

Harris had previously led a team of Australian divers through caves on New Zealand’s South Island in an effort to uncover the source of the Pearse River.

“Harry is selfless, he is extremely thoughtful. He’s a quiet person. He is the type of guy who will give his all,” MedSTAR clinical director Andrew Pearce said, adding that Harris had an “amazing ability to do what no-one else does in diving into very dark, tight spaces with not a lot of equipment.”

David Strike has known Harris for more than a decade, and said that Harris had been involved in diving explorations from across the world, adding that his friend has an “active interest” in diving safety and accident investigation.

“He’s been diving for over 30 years, and readily embraced advances in diving technology to better help him explore and photograph caves in Australia and overseas,” Strike said.

“Quite apart from his own cave exploration experiences, as an anesthetist and a medical professional who is also involved in retrieval medicine, he has always struck me as a person who is capable of calmly assessing any situation and then acting appropriately,” he added.

Harris’ knowledge was imperative to the rescue mission, and had reportedly convinced Thailand’s officials to bring out the weakest boys first instead of the strongest.

Although the rescue crew had originally believed that by getting the strongest out first, there was a higher chance they’d be brought back to safety, Harris convinced them if they didn’t rescue the weakest ones first, there was a higher chance they’d perish in the cave.

He was right, and all 13 people survived.