One of the two Australians who were with the Thai football team and helped them escape safely from the Tham Luong cave has revealed the boys and their coach were heavily sedated during the extraction operation.
In an exclusive interview with the ABC’s Four Corners program, retired Perth vet Craig Challen explained how he worked closely with his friend and fellow expert cave diver, Adelaide anaesthetist Dr Richard Harris, to medically assess the boys and their coach and get them ready for the rescue operation.
In his first in-depth interview about the rescue operation, Dr Challen confirmed that the boys were heavily sedated.
“They did have some sedation to keep them calm, because the worst thing that could happen would be one of those guys panicking,” he said.
“If you put me in a full face mask with no previous experience and dragged me out of a cave for, it’s about a three hour trip, then I would be terrified and probably panicking as well.”
The boys and their coach were located by a pair of British divers on July 2.
Dr Challen and Dr Harris were called in by Thai authorities and arrived in northern Thailand on July 6. They dived into the flooded cave the next day.
“They [the boys] were pretty unreservedly happy to see us, I think. I can’t imagine what it was like for them being in there nine days with no contact,” Dr Challen said.
“You would be thinking that it was all over, really. But by the time we got in there, there’d been somebody in to visit them every day.
“They had lots of food. I wouldn’t say that it was all that appetising; it’s all just ration packs. But we were able to tell them that we were developing a plan to get them out.
“I’m not sure whether they were fully appraised of the fact that it was going to flood and you know what the consequences of that might be.”
Dr Challen said the risks of diving out with scared and inexperienced children in tow cannot be overstated.
“It was time consuming and fraught with danger because you really only need to do one little thing wrong that makes the breathing apparatus not work properly or have a little leak or something like that, which may go unnoticed when they set off,” he said.
“And they’ve got another hour-and-a-half, two hours underwater to deal with. It’s out of the question to even attempt any sort of resuscitation or something like that.”
Dr Challen said he had his doubts about whether the rescue operation would be successful.
“It was not a result that we thought we would get,” he said.
“We thought there was a very real prospect that we would be doing body recoveries, rather than live patient extractions from there. I think everybody is unreservedly pretty happy now.”
- Watch Four Corners‘ full report, Out Of The Dark, including exclusive interviews with key rescuers Monday, July15, at 8.30pm on ABC TV and ABC iView.