> Skip to content
  • Published: 2 August 2022
  • ISBN: 9780143778202
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 288
  • RRP: $17.99

Against All Odds Young Readers’ Edition

Extract

Life can lead you to the most unexpected places. In this book, you will read about the extraordinary rescue that Harry and I participated in over a number of tumultuous days in July 2018.

In hindsight, we were as prepared as anyone could be for such an unusual event. But we would never in our wildest dreams have imagined it. We’re not professional rescuers, we’re just a couple of ordinary people who cave dive, an unusual hobby most people had never heard of prior to the Tham Luang rescue.

Our readiness for the rescue came from a life of adventuring and exploration, and this is a life that I would recommend. Many readers will say to themselves, ‘I could never do something like cave diving’. But this is the worst thing you can do, putting limits on yourself before you have even tried for no reason other than fear of the unknown. Cave diving and other adventures have built qualities in us – strength, resilience and mental toughness – that have made us the people we are today and led us to places we could not have imagined.

Aside from the rescue, one of the achievements I ammost proud of, as well, is developing expertise in deep-cave-diving exploration. This kind of cave diving happensin water deeper that 200 metres. There are perhaps a dozen people throughout the world that have done dives such asthis, and when Harry and I started we did not think we could ever be part of that group. There is certainly nothing special about my physical or mental abilities or courage. But slowly I built knowledge and expertise, until one day I realised that the limits I had previously believed in were not really there at all. I was able to do so much more and go so much further than I knew.

There is no doubt that accidents can sometimes happen in adventure sports like cave diving. But cave divers are not adrenaline junkies with a death wish. We love life as much as, if not more than, anyone else. The difference is that we enjoy challenging and extending ourselves, testing our mettle to find our limits, control risk and defeat fear. And every challenge pursued, whether successful or not, builds our capability and strength as adventurers.

Of course, not everyone is going to become a cave diver, or participate in extreme sports. But we all participate in the great adventure of life. At the risk of sounding clichéd, you only get one shot at this life, so make it a good one. Whatever you choose to pursue, do it to the best of your ability, uninhibited by imagined limits that you place upon yourself. I hope you enjoy our story, but I also hope that you get more from it than just a great tale. I hope you learn how challenges prepare us for the trials and unexpected obstacles that pop up in our journey through life. The life of an adventurer is not for everyone. But everyone can be adventurous in their life and we urge them to do so. You never know where it will take you.

Craig Challen

After the rescue of the young boys from the cave in Thailand, we were filled with admiration for how courageous the lads had been. They spent 10 very long days sitting in the dark at the back of that cave, without any hope or expectation of rescue. I wondered how I might have fared under similar circumstances? Would I have found the courage that these boys demonstrated? I believe that most of us are not inherently brave, but rather it is something we have to work on. We do this by challenging ourselves throughout life by doing things outside our comfort zone. In other words, courage can be learned.

After the cave rescue was over, a correspondent from the USA described me as a ‘unicorn’ because of the rare and improbable combination of skills I brought to the rescue. Experience in cave diving, an interest in rescuing people from flooded caves and my work as an anaesthetist. In fact, he was not quite right, as I personally know several other anaesthetists with similar skills. But it did make me think. As a young man I grew up lacking confidence and struggled to find something I was good at. Team sports failed to excite me and I definitely didn’t shine on the field. I was disengaged at school, only just managing to get my head down at the last minute to achieve sufficient grades to go to university. But I was lucky that I had found a passion in lifeat a very early age – exploring the ocean.

After the cave rescue, Craig and I became Joint Australians of the Year for 2019. In the process, we gave many talks around the country including to school students. And I came to realise that every one of us is a unicorn. Every one of us has a unique combination of skills and characteristics, and hopefully there is a custom-made place in life for all of us. That’s not to say that everyone will end up being involved in a Thai cave rescue! But we should all take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way, for one never knows where such moments will lead.

We all struggle to find courage and our place in life. Courage and confidence come in many forms and can build over time. We all have unique skills – sometimes we just need time to discover what they are.

Richard Harris

CHAPTER ONE

'THEY'RE ALL GOING TO DIE'

HARRY

It was the mission we’d all been training for, a life-or-death rescue in remote northern Thailand, deep inside a flooded mountain cave. The whole world was watching. The chances were disturbingly slim. Anyone who knew anything about cave rescue knew that. Thirteen young people were huddled in the chilly darkness, one monsoonal downpour away from the end of their lives.

And where was I?

I was 7022 kilometres away, at my usual post in the operating theatre of Flinders Private Hospital in Adelaide, making sure a patient didn’t wake up from her anaesthesia. I love being in theatre. But man! I’d never felt so far from the action in my life.

Early that morning before work, a message had popped up on my phone. It was from the legendary British cave diver Rick Stanton, who had raced to the scene with fellow Brit John Volanthen to help save the stranded members of the Wild Boars soccer team.

‘Could you sedate someone and dive them out?’ he wanted to know.

Rick must be desperate, I thought. Otherwise, he’d never ask a question so absurd. As an anaesthetist and a diver, I thought the very idea sounded preposterous. You’d kill the kid for sure.

‘Sedation not an option,’ I replied. I could think of a hundred ways it could end in tragedy and not a single way it might succeed.

It was Wednesday, 4 July 2018. The boys had been trapped in Tham Luang cave since the evening of Saturday, 23 June – well over a week – and the outlook was grim. Rick hated what he found at the cave: a circus of ill-trained thrill-seekers, gung-ho military types, overwhelmed government officials and gullible journalists from around the world sending outridiculously optimistic updates about the chances of saving the boys. Things were so chaotic at the cave, Rick confided, that he was ready to pack up his dive gear and fly home.

Thankfully, Rick and his guys decided to stay. They clipped on their tanks, spat in their face masks and pressed on. They would, of course, be the first divers to locate the twelve frightened soccer players and their 25-year-old assistant coach, shivering on top of a muddy hill more than two and a half kilometres in. But locating the team was one thing. Navigating the cave’s narrow passages and sharp, jutting rocks in zero visibility to guide the boys out – that was something else entirely. That, I hoped, was where Craig Challen, my long-time dive buddy, and I might still fit in.

Ever since we’d seen the first stories about the boys lost in the cave, Craig and I had been angling to help. Both of us had trained for years in underground rescue. Both of us had decades of medical experience, too – I was an anaesthetist and critical-care doctor, and Craig was a veterinary surgeon. We’d played key roles in a couple of harrowing body-recovery operations. But so far, we had never been part of a live rescue involving so many people, or in such treacherous conditions as this. But no one had asked us to come to Thailand – yet.

Every man and his dog had a theory about how to get these poor children out of the cave. Drill through the limestone from above. Pump the water out from below. Give the boys a crash course in scuba diving and swim them out. Not one of them showed any promise. The billionaire tech promoter Elon Musk would soon be promoting his own creative schemes, which included an inflatable tunnel and a minisub. Or how about leaving the boys in the cave for five or six months, with food, clean water, space blankets and maybe some video games – and then walking them out after the rainy season? Everybody was utterly perplexed.‘I should be over there helping,’ I texted Rick. ‘Craig and I are happy to provide any assistance.’

A couple of hours later, he texted again, explaining exactly what we’d soon be facing. ‘You’re going to dive to the end of the cave,’ he warned. ‘You’re going to see these kids. They’re all looking healthy and happy and smiley. Then you’re going to swim away and probably leave them all to die. Be mindful of that before you say yes with too much enthusiasm.’

It was only after arriving in Thailand that Craig and I understood Rick’s warning. The plight of the boys was far more dire than any outsider realised.

Against All Odds is the true inside story of the greatest cave rescue ever, much of it revealed here for the very first time. The heartbreak and the triumph. The far-fetched strategies that were laughed out of Thailand and the one that would ultimately save the day. Most of all, it’s the story of the remarkable band of characters from around theworld who were determined to save these stranded boys nomatter what the risk.

- Rick and his mates, world-class divers who looked likea ragtag collection of middle-aged hobbyists;

- three Thai Navy SEALs – the greatest babysitters ever;

- a charismatic Thai military doctor who would keep thechildren healthy, both mentally and physically, longenough to be saved;

- the team’s assistant coach, who would guide the boysthrough their ordeal with incredible devotion and adeep, spiritual calm;

- Craig and me.

Craig and I weren’t certain what we could do that mighthelp save the lives of those boys, but we would soon findout.


Against All Odds Young Readers’ Edition Craig Challen, Richard Harris

The incredible true story of the Tham Luang Thai cave rescue of a boys’ soccer team trapped for days with no supplies and decreasing oxygen levels. From joint Australians of the Year Richard Harris and Craig Challen. Now in a special edition for young readers.

Buy now
Buy now

More extracts

See all
Against All Odds

The world was riveted by the news coming out of Thailand.

Aussie Kids: Meet Katie at the Beach

'Who wants to go to the beach for a swim?' said Dad.

Misrule

The field is full of flowers. None of those words is a lie, but they’re not true either, because they’re too small, too inadequate, too little to describe the field, its fullness, the flowers.

Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment

The stench of horse manure woke Max Einstein with a jolt.

Born to Run

My first ever race could have been a complete disaster.

The Ice Whisperers

The cold woke Bela up.

The PM's Daughter

This is a story about me.

Ranger's Apprentice The Royal Ranger 5: Escape from Falaise

‘Tie them up,’ Baron Lassigny ordered. ‘They’re under arrest.’

When Days Tilt: Time Catchers Book 1

It is a time of tilting days.

House of Hollow

I was ten years old the first time I realised I was strange.

The Golden Tower

It seemed like just another ordinary Tuesday when Sophie met Baccio.

The Hatmakers

It was a wild and lightning-struck night.