“I can remember getting back to the dive base at chamber three. I popped my head out of the water, took off my mask and I asked, ‘did anyone survive?’”
Dr Craig Challen SC OAM presented to students at Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School about his experience as part of the 2018 international rescue mission which saved 12 boys and their soccer coach from flooded caves in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Dr challen has dived some of Australia’s deepest wrecks and has set depth records in diving, including diving to 194 metres. He is internationally recognised as one of the world’s leading technical divers, receiving the highest award at the Oztek diving conference.
When Dr Challen got the call for volunteer divers, he booked a ticket for Thailand without a second thought.
“Undoubtedly, the most challenging part of the rescue was anaesthetising the boys. We thought it was impossible, but it had to be done. We thought that if we left them in the cave, it would lead to certain death, and it would be a pretty slow lingering and unpleasant death at that,” said Dr Challen.
To the rescue team’s surprise, they were able to swim each anaesthetised boy through the dark, murky and tight cave tunnels, each journey taking about three hours.
At the end of the first day, swimming the boys out of the cave, Dr Challen recalled, “I can remember getting back to the dive base at chamber three. I popped my head out of the water, took off my mask and I asked, ‘did anyone survive?’
“There were some US Air Force guys who were there and they said, ‘yep it’s all good. Everyone is in hospital’.
“It was like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders.”
The 12 boys had only been reported missing when they did not show up for evening dinner, but the light-hearted exploration quickly turned deadly.
Head Girl of Primary, Molly Lincoln concluded, “The most memorable thing I learned was never do anything without telling your parents.”
Dr Challen was announced as the WA Australian of the Year as well as the joint recipient of the 2019 Australian of the Year Award along with his dive partner South Australian Dr Richard Harris, for their heroic efforts.
These two divers were also recognised by the Governor General of Australia when they were awarded the Star of Courage for their unwavering and selfless bravery following the successful rescue of the trapped soccer team.
“The most unexpected things can happen to anybody. I am just an ordinary guy, with an unusual hobby,” said Dr Challen.
To finish his presentation, Dr Challen encouraged the students,
“Do hard things. Get yourself used to the little discomforts and inconveniences of life. Get yourself used to failure—If you are not failing at some of the things you try, you are not trying enough things. If you spend your life preparing yourself for that test than you will be able to face anything that life throws at you.”
Joshua Joynson, Head Boy of Primary said, “It was inspiring how he talked about what you can do for everyone.”
Head Boy of Secondary, Patrick Reilly agreed, “Dr Challen is a truly inspiring Australian and a true example of stepping up to the mark when someone needs help, and that is something that we all have the ability to do.”