CANBERRA-Thai cave diver Richard Harris has been named South Australia’s Australian of the Year award for his role in saving the Wild Boars soccer team in July.

   Harris made international headlines after it was revealed that he was the last person to leave the flooded cave after helping rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach in northern Thailand.

   The anaesthetist used his professional expertise and his cave diving skills to guide the sedated boys to safety.

   The Australian of the Year Awards organization said he exhibited “character, determination and courage” during the dangerous rescue.

   “Under great pressure and putting his own life at risk, he swam through the narrow cave system to assess the health of those trapped, giving the medical all-clear for each evacuee, and administering an anaesthetic to each of them within the cave to facilitate their rescue,” it said.

   Accepting the award at an event in Adelaide on Thursday night, Harris said he was “overwhelmed and very, very grateful.”

   “I’m fiercely proud to be a South Australian so to get an award from the state is as good as it gets,” he said.

   “I was just going about my two passions, cave diving and medicine. They have grown in parallel since my early 20s. I’ve really enjoyed that path. It seems bizarre that they combined for an event like the one in Thailand,” he said.

   Harris cancelled a cave diving holiday at the last minute to join the rescue operation having been called by expert divers from Britain.

   Australian of the Year winners from each of the nation’s six states and two territories form the nominees for the national Australian of the Year Awards, the winners of which will be announced on Jan. 25.

   Harris will be up against friend and fellow cave diver Craig Challen, who was named Western Australia’s Australian of the Year on Tuesday.

   “It would be much better to give him the award than I,” Harris said of his fellow diver.