Australian vet Craig Challen praised for key role in Thai cave rescue

Dr Craig Challen (right) is a close friend and dive partner of Australian anaesthetist, Dr Richard Harris. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/BLUELABELDIVING

SYDNEY - A vet from the Western Australian city of Perth played a key role in the rescue of 12 boys and their assistant soccer coach trapped deep in a Thai cave.

Dr Craig Challen is a close friend and dive partner of Australian anaesthetist Dr Richard Harris, who assessed the health of the boys and their coach, determining who needed to get out of the cave quickest and who could wait longer, Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) online reported.

Dr Harris was praised by Thai and Australian authorities for his key role in helping manage the rescue.

Both doctors were among 19 Australians who helped a multi-national effort to bring the soccer team out.

Dr Harris, from Adelaide, was specifically requested by the British diving team for his rare skills as an expert cave diver and medic used to working in extreme conditions.

In turn, Dr Harris requested Dr Challen join him.

Australian Foreign Minister Ms Julie Bishop praised Dr Harris, Dr Challen and the other members of the Australian team for their efforts in a statement on Wednesday (July 11).

Both belong to an informal group of divers who call themselves the 'Wet Mules', who take on some of the world's deepest caves, the Daily Mail online reported.

Technical cave diving is known as the "Formula One of diving", reported the ABC and the Mules liked to push the limits of exploration of the most technically challenging caves.

The group's name was inspired by the southern American expression "enough money to burn a wet mule".

They pride themselves on innovative thinking and doing whatever it takes to solve the trickiest of problems, according to their website.

"As a large part of our chosen pursuit of cave diving seems to revolve around ferrying heavy objects in and out of caves, submersing ourselves in frigid waters for many hours and generally abusing our bodies in a multitude of ways, we were beginning to take on the persona of the wet mule itself!," the Wet Mules website says.

"Stubborn, strong of back and oblivious to pain: these are the qualities of the exploration cave diver!"

Dr Harris and Dr Challen have gained many years of experience together, pushing the limits of some of the most difficult caves, such as Cocklebiddy Cave in Western Australia and the Pearse River on New Zealand's South Island, ABC reported.

In 2012, Dr Challen set an Australasian record when he reached a depth of 220m at Pearse Resurgence in New Zealand.

ABC quoted New South Wales diving consultant David Strike as saying he was not surprised Dr Harris had asked Dr Challen to help him on the Thai mission because close personal relationships were vital in difficult dives.

"Like most divers, you tend to get used to a particular diving partner," Dr Strike said.

"Telepathy almost comes into play. You become very comfortable with a particular dive buddy, you know how they're going to react in a certain situation," he told ABC.

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