The world rejoiced when it was announced that a missing Thai soccer team, missing for 10 days, was discovered alive yesterday. Today, we are learning more about the two volunteer British cave divers who risked their lives to find them.
Rick Stanton, 56, and John Volanthen, 47, are members of a volunteer organization called the British Cave Rescue Council, which helps with rescue operations around the globe. By day, BBC News reports, Volenthan is an IT consultant and Stanton is a retired firefighter.
The pair navigated tight passages, strong currents, and flooded waters in order to reach the 12 boys and their coach. It wasn’t the first time the two men had stepped up in dangerous circumstances.
In 2010 they headed a rescue operation in France to find missing French diver Eric Establie. The missing man was an accomplished diver himself and was the only person to have explored the submerged cave he was found in more than 700 meters. He had apparently attempted to go beyond that when he disappeared. Stanton and Volanthen found his body after eight days and multiple dives. In 2012 Buckingham Palace honored the man with the Royal Humane Society medal for their role in the operation.
Stanton also served a pivotal role in rescuing six soldiers stranded by rising floodwaters in Mexico in 2004. The rescue effort included teaching the soldiers how to dive so they could work their way through a long passage to a safe spot. Many speculate this may also be necessary in the case of the stranded Thai soccer team. In 2012, Stanton was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his selfless service to local government.
Volanthen’s mother, Jill Volanthen, told the BBC she had “absolute pride” in her son, and she felt “absolute relief” the children had been found. “But I don’t think it’s all over yet. Let them get them out first,” she said pragmatically.
Bill Whitehouse, vice chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council, described an email from one of the divers last night. “The description in his email was it was a bit of a gnarly dive, which means there were complications and problems. Quite a strong flow, current, so they’re having to swim against the current and pull themselves along the walls. The visibility in the water wouldn’t have been very good.” He went on to say the dive required a three-hour round trip, in which the pair navigated a partly flooded 1.5-kilometer passage.
Volanthen and Stanton are reportedly still on site but have stepped back to allow the Thai Navy Seals to bring supplies to the boys and make sure they are looked after and protected while they plan the next phase of the rescue operation.