11 July 2024

The 12 young footballers and their coach trapped for 10 days in Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai were definitely relieved when they saw the first team of rescuers emerge in the dark chamber where they were taking refuge. But they must also have been surprised when the first words they heard were in English.

John Volanthen and Richard Stanton are two British cave-diving experts who have been working along side Thai rescue teams since the search and rescue mission was launched more than a week ago. And they were the first two rescuers to reach the spot nicknamed Pattaya Beach and came into contact with the missing boys.

“How many of you?” asked Volanthen as he approached the 12 boys and their coach in their mud-stained football shirts and shorts sitting on a dry mound. “Brilliant,” he responded when one of the boys said there were 13 of them, an assurance that everyone was safe.

Volanthen and Richard, who were joined by another British, Robert Harper, and who have been hailed as the world’s best cave divers, arrived in Thailand shortly after the rescue operation started. They are part of an international effort, involving rescue experts from seven nations, to find the missing boys.

BBC reported that the British Cave Rescue Council – the body for voluntary underground rescue in the British Isles – said many of the caves have been explored by British cavers and divers before.

In a statement, the BCRC said: “Around 16:30 BST, we started to receive the remarkable news that all 12 of the boys and their coach had been located in a dry air space…

“Shortly after this news, we received a direct but short confirmation from our British cave divers of the joyful news that the lost boys had been located alive.”

It is believed Volanthen and Stanton are part of the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team and helped rescue a trapped diver in France in 2010.

The South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team declined to comment on the rescue, while the BCRC said it does not name the cavers it sends on operations.

According to reports on the 2010 rescue, Mr Stanton is a firefighter from Coventry who was also involved in the rescue of 13 British cavers in Mexico in 2004.

He was made an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List at the end of 2012, according to BBC.

In a 2007 interview, he said he became interested in diving after watching a programme called “Underground Eiger” as a child. He joined caving and diving clubs at university, BBC said.

According to an online profile, Mr Volanthen runs marathons and ultra-marathons. He joked that “he only runs so he can eat more biscuits”.

Efforts are now under way to get the group out of the cave. Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn said this morning he could not confirm when the boys could be extracted from the cave, citing the needs for a thorough medical examination to determine their physical conditions.