Cave rescue divers given diplomatic immunity in case something ‘went wrong’

Foreign divers return from Tham Luang Nang Non cave on July 1, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Linh Pham/Getty Images

International rescuers were given diplomatic immunity ahead of the rescue mission which saved 12 boys and their 25-year-old coach from a cave in Thailand last week. 

An official source confirmed to Australian television program Four Corners that two Australian divers, vet Craig Challen and anesthetist Richard Harris, were given diplomatic immunity in case anything went wrong during the rescue operation and the Thais tried to hold them responsible.

The immunity was reportedly granted after discussions between Australian and Thai government officials, meaning the two divers couldn’t be held legally responsible for issues that arose during the mission, including the possible deaths of those being rescued.

Business Insider contacted Australia’s foreign affairs department about the claim, but the department said it couldn’t comment on the specifics of Thailand’s rescue operation.

The risks involved in the rescue mission were significant as a loose face mask or lack of oxygen could have caused deaths during each rescue dive.

Australia’s foreign affairs department declined to confirm or deny the report, referring questions about the planning and implementation of the rescue to Thai officials.

The mission was “absolutely life and death” and the cave diving specialists were uncertain if they would be able to successfully save all 12 boys and their coach, Challen told local media after returning home.

“It wasn’t dangerous for us, but I can’t emphasise enough how dangerous it was for the kids,” he told Perth’s Sunday Times.

The children were sedated to the point that “they didn’t know what was going on” to prevent them from panicking as they were led by the divers along the tight corridors, Challen added.

“They had drugs. We could not have panicking kids in there, they would have killed themselves and possibly killed the rescuer as well.”

The divers said they trained above ground with local children at a nearby pool, before practising with the trapped boys by getting them used to donning wetsuits, buoyancy jackets and full-face masks.

Navigating through one narrow section of the tunnel in pitch darkness was particularly challenging, British diver Jason Mallinson told the ABC.

“The only time you find out about (the section) is when your head bangs against the wall,” he said, describing his efforts to squeeze one boy he was rescuing through each obstacle.

“I was confident of getting the kid out. I wasn’t 100 percent confident of getting him out alive.

“Because if we bashed him against a rock too hard and it dislodged that mask and flooded his mask, he was a goner… We didn’t have a backup device for them. It was that mask or nothing.”

Doctors say the boys, who are recovering in hospital after their extraction last week, are in good health. – AAP

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