The Australian divers who helped rescue the Wild Boars soccer team in Thailand have been reunited with the boys and coach, nine months on.
Dr Richard Harris and Dr Craig Challen returned to the scene at the invitation of the Thai government, and were curious to know if the boys realised the risks involved in the escape operation.
“We did suggest to them that it was quite a dangerous undertaking and in their own way they just seemed to accept that,” Dr Harris said on Monday.
“I think nothing can worry these kids. They’re so cool,” he said.
“Dr Harry” – as the Adelaide anaesthetist is known – played the crucial role of sedating the boys with ketamine, so a team of British divers could carry them out unconscious through the cave.
His long-time dive and friend Dr Craig Challen assisted with medical checks deep inside the cave.
Even now it’s dry, the cave remains off limits to the public, with some parts silted up, creating narrow crawl spaces.
But the Thai authorities have allowed special access for the experienced Australian cave divers and their families.
“We didn’t really get to have a proper view. It was all filled with muddy, horrible water when we were here before,” Dr Challen said.
Standing inside the cavernous cave entrance, the pair joked about getting stuck.
“We’re not planning on being in there for any great time,” Dr Challen said.
“But that’s what they [the junior soccer team] said,” laughed Dr Harris.
“If we’re not out in four hours, we want you to all come in help us – bring some chocolate and some beer,” Dr Harris told media.
Location error revealed
The boys were trapped in late June, when an early monsoon storm flooded their way out.
They spent 10 days without food, huddled on a muddy ledge known locally as Nerm Nom Sao, a location thought to be about 350 metres past the better-known landmark of Pattaya Beach.
But another key figure in the rescue – British cave explorer Vern Unsworth – said when he went back in last month, it was clear the boys had been at Pattaya Beach the whole time.
“Well, we’ve been back to Pattaya Beach where the boys were actually found,” Mr Unsworth told media, just before he guided the Australians into the cave.
The revelation contradicts all the official reports, documentaries and books on the subject.
Mr Unsworth later told the ABC: “Nerm Nom Sao doesn’t exist. It’s a figment of some journalist’s imagination.”
This time last year, Tham Luang Cave was hardly on anyone’s sightseeing list but now on a busy day, as many as 10,000 tourists visit.
“Tham Luang is so special because it was big news, that even reached to Laos,” said Aly Thammawong, a student visiting with her family from across the border.
“And one of the boys trapped is our distant relative,” she told the ABC, referring to the youngest of the trapped boys, Chanin “Titan” Vibulrungruang.
The tragic death of Thai Navy SEAL diver Saman Kunan is commemorated with a bronze statue in front of the cave entrance.
Stalls near the entrance sell T-shirts, caps and other mementos, while dozens of food stalls line the road leading to the cave.