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‘Thirteen Lives’ Immortalises Thai Cave Rescue: Meet the Australian Cave Diving Heroes

Thai cave rescue

‘I just want to warn you. You’re going to dive to the end of the cave. You’re going to see these kids. They’re all looking healthy and happy and smiley. Then, you’re going to swim away, and… they’re probably all going to die.’

The story that transfixed the world has now been immortalised on the big screen in a gripping new movie, ‘Thirteen Lives’. The recreation of the near-impossible Thai caves rescue mission is given the full Hollywood treatment, with Academy Award-winning Director Ron Howard producing and directing, and commanding performances by stars Colin Farrell, Viggo Mortensen and Joel Edgerton bringing the story to life.

In 2018, the world held its collective breath as 13 boys from the Thai Wild Boars soccer team lay trapped deep inside an underwater cave system for seventeen days after rains flooded cave passages. More than 5,000 people, including 100 government agencies, 900 police officers and 2,000 soldiers, were involved in the rescue effort as the boys – eventually located over two kilometres into the caves – waited in darkness.

With their unique combination of medical expertise and advanced cave diving skills, leading underwater cave diver Dr. Craig Challen and fellow Australian cave diver and anaesthetist Dr Richard ‘Harry’ Harris, were asked to join the international rescue mission to save them.

With no precedent to follow, the men worked long days under intense scrutiny and extreme pressure, putting plans in place to get the stranded boys through miles of narrow flooded tunnels in zero-visibility water. The decision was made to anaesthetise them and bring them through the claustrophobic tunnels unconscious, one by one. Every 30 minutes or so during the journey of more than five hours, the boys would be dosed with ketamine to keep them sedated.

Richard explains the decision, saying “It was either leave them to die a very slow, awful death from starvation, exposure, or infection, let alone the psychological terror… or you’d take them out and probably they’ll die, but they’ll be anesthetised and asleep when that happens…”

Miraculously, all 13 members of the Thai soccer team survived the ordeal. And when Richard surfaced from the caves, as the last person out, the world celebrated. Their mission was complete, and the two Australian men became international heroes.

Craig and Richard were both awarded a Star of Courage as well as the Order of Australia for service to the international community for their selfless bravery during the successful rescue. In 2019, they were also named as the first dual Australians of the Year for their heroic efforts.

In 2020 Craig and Richard released their book, ‘Against All Odds‘, providing a riveting inside account of the Thai cave rescue. With Ron Howard’s critically acclaimed feature film ‘Thirteen Lives’ now showing on Prime Video, it’s the perfect time to engage these Australian heroes to speak at your next event!


More about Dr. Craig Challen and Dr. Richard Harris

craig challenDr. Craig Challen SC OAM is a member of the Wet Mules, a diving group that takes on some of the world’s deepest underwater caves. He has explored caves throughout Australia, New Zealand, China, Thailand, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands, as well as shipwreck sites in the South China Sea, Solomon Islands, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Craig is a veterinary surgeon by profession, founding Vetwest group of veterinary practices in 1993 (which later became Australian Animal Hospitals), until retiring in 2017 to concentrate on diving. Craig is also an enthusiastic helicopter and aeroplane pilot! Read more about Craig here.

richard harrisDr Richard Harris SC OAM worked with AusAID in Vanuatu for two years, helping to provide much-needed medical services including anaesthesia and intensive care. His diving career spans thirty years, and has seen him complete record-breaking and daring expeditions all around the world. Richard’s passion and skill for underwater exploration has also enabled him to work on documentaries, feature films and with teams from across the globe in the roles of diver, underwater cameraman and medical support.

Richard is a member of the Explorers Club of New York, as well as diving group Wet Mules alongside Craig Challen, and is currently working as an anaesthetist at South Australia’s emergency medical retrieval service, MedSTAR. Richard was a proud recipient of an Australian award for Outstanding Contributions to Cave Exploration. Read more about Richard here.


As two of our most popular motivational speakers, Craig and Richard share their captivating story with infectious positivity and enthusiasm, uplifting hearts and inspiring people to believe in the impossible. If you’d like to talk to us about engaging Craig or Richard (or perhaps both) for your next event, get in touch with us for a chat!