As Thailand wakes up to the incredible news of the rescue of 12 young footballers and their coach who had been trapped deep underground in the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai, more information has been revealed of the British divers who have been credited with finding the group.
British divers John Volanthen, Robert Harper and Richard Stanton have been hailed as heroes by the Thai media.
The trio, who were among the first foreigners to join the rescue operation, are thought to be part of the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team and are considered the world’s leading experts on exploring underground cave systems.
In 2010 they were specifically requested by the French government to help rescue a diver who had been trapped for one week in the Dragonnière Gaud cave near Labastide de Virac in the Ardeche region.
Also in 2010, Volanthen, an IT consultant and ultra marathon runner from Bristol, and Stanton, a firefighter from Coventry, were part of a team who set a new world record by diving 5.5 miles into the previously unexplored Pozo Azul cave system in Spain.
In 2004 Richard Stanton was also involved in the rescue of 13 British cavers in Mexico.
Stanton is in his mid fifties and is regarded as one of Britain’s foremost cave divers, with more than 35 years experience.
He was awarded awarded an MBE in 2012 for services to cave diving, and is often described as the face of British cave diving, and the best cave diver in Europe.
“I enjoy the logistical challenge,” Volanthen told the Sunday Times in an interview in 2013.
“Getting us and all our kit to the end of such a long cave… it’s like that puzzle with the fox, the chicken and the grain. It’s not dangerous if you do it right. There are just a large number of little things that you have to be on top of at all times.”
The BBC reports that the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team have declined to comment on the rescue, while the British Cave Rescue Council, a representative body for cave rescuers in the UK said it does not name rescuers it sends to operations to “allow them to get on with their difficult task without distraction”.
However, the BCRC did release a short statement which read: “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.”
Thai Navy Seals last night shared a video of the moment the missing children and their 25 year old coach were found.
The video features the voices of two British divers who are believed to be Richard Stanton and John Volanthen.
Meanwhile, the vice chair of the British Cave Rescue Council, Bill Whitehouse has now released a statement describing the difficult conditions the British divers face.
Here is the statement in full:
Around 16:30h this afternoon, we started to receive the remarkable news that all 12 of the boys and their coach had been located in a dry air space south of the Pattaya Beach area of Tham Luang Nang Non Cave.
It is estimated that they are around 200 m south of that underground landmark.
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. Video footage of the boys and their coach has now been released and shown to families waiting on the surface.
Two British, volunteer cave divers found the boys at their current location, but the last 36 hours have seen a coordinated and planned approach to the rescue being led by the Thai Military and involving many other nations (including the USA, Chinese, Australians and others).
Equipment and air supplies have been ferried in to the system over the last day or so, enabling the divers to progress further in to the system than was previously possible. Diving lines have been laid to the boys’ location for other divers to follow with essential food, comforts and medical supplies.
We believe that there is only a short break in the monsoon and all feasible options for the rescue of the boys are being considered. Although water levels have dropped, the diving conditions remain difficult and any attempt to dive the boys and their coach out will not be taken lightly because there are significant technical challenges and risks to consider.
It is estimated that the boys are around 2 km into the cave and somewhere between 800 m to 1km below the surface. They are also located in a relatively small space and this would make any potential drilling attempt as a means of rescue very difficult.
Back here in the UK, there is an assessment of electronic equipment that may be suitable to pin-point the underground location of the boys and coach with a greater degree of accuracy than the published surveys.
The necessary equipment will be sent to Thailand if electronic experts agree on the feasibility that it will operate over such depths.