British divers who found boys helped out in past rescue efforts

British divers John Volanthen (at left) and Richard Stanton, seen here with a Thai rescue team member at the Tham Luang cave area in Chiang Rai Province yesterday, after finding the boys and their coach alive in the cave.
British divers John Volanthen (at left) and Richard Stanton, seen here with a Thai rescue team member at the Tham Luang cave area in Chiang Rai Province yesterday, after finding the boys and their coach alive in the cave.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Two British volunteer divers who helped find a youth football team trapped in a cave complex in Thailand have a history of difficult rescues around the world.

Mr Richard Stanton and Mr John Volanthen, who have day jobs as a fireman and Internet engineer, respectively, negotiated a long and winding path through flooded caverns to find the 12 young boys and their coach nine days after they went missing.

"The British divers Rick and John were at the spearhead" of the forward search party, said Mr Bill Whitehouse of the British Cave Rescue Council, an informal grouping of rescue teams around Britain.

"They managed to dive the last section and get through into the chamber where the missing party was on a ledge above the water."

Mr Whitehouse, who has spoken briefly to the team that also included a third Briton, Mr Robert Harper, as well as other international and Thai experts, described the difficulties of the search.

"They were diving upstream in the system, so they were having to swim against the current or pull themselves along the walls," he told the BBC.

"I gather the actual diving section was about 1.5km, about half of which was completely flooded," he said, adding that the total dive was about three hours.

Mr Volanthen, an Internet engineer in Bristol in the south-west of the country, and Mr Stanton, a fireman from Coventry in central England, are no strangers to difficult dives.

Mr Stanton, in his mid-50s, told his local newspaper in 2012 that his biggest achievement was helping rescue six British soldiers trapped in caves in Mexico.

In 2010, he and Mr Volanthen also helped in an attempt to find Mr Eric Establie, an experienced French potholer who became trapped underground in the Ardeche region of southern France. Mr Establie's remains were found eight days after he went missing.

"All of the cave rescue missions are quite shocking, but the most challenging one was in France," Mr Stanton said in the interview, to mark his receipt of an MBE honour from Queen Elizabeth II.

But Mr Stanton insisted that cave diving was still only a hobby which he started at the age of 18.

In Thailand, the diving team have avoided the media, with Mr Volanthen, who is said to be in his 40s, telling reporters when he arrived at the site: "We have got a job to do."

Besides them, specialists from Australia, Britain, Japan, China, Myanmar and Laos, as well as more than 30 US military personnel, joined about 1,000 Thai rescuers in the massive search-and-rescue operation.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2018, with the headline 'British divers who found boys helped out in past rescue efforts'. Print Edition | Subscribe