Success for Epic Cave Mission - Wild Boars & Coach Rescued
In a remarkable conclusion to a remarkable rescue operation, all of the 12 teenage members of the Wild Boar football club and their coach were rescued from the Tham Luang Cave Complex today.
The last boy and the coach were led out around 6pm local time and taken to hospital. The boys had been trapped 5km underground for 19 days.
The eleventh boy came to the surface at 5.15pm local time (8.15pm AEST), the tenth at around 4.30pm local time (7.30pm AEST) and the ninth just minutes earlier at 4.06pm.
The rescue team of 19 divers had entered the cave roughly seven hours earlier for the dramatic last push to get all of the boys and their coach free before heavy rains brought more flooding to the complex and perilous cave system.
More than 90 divers were involved in the extremely demanding operation - 50 or so from the cave diving community. The first four were led out by British divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen on Sunday. The same team led another group of four out on Monday.
However, the governor of Chiang Rai province Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters that today's mission was proving more difficult than the previous two. He said before the last victims appeared: 'Please give us time to work. Today’s mission is more demanding than the two previous days.'
The epic operation was marred by one death. A former Thai navy diver died in the caves on Friday. Saman Gunan was returning from a mission to provide the group with air tanks when he ran out of air.
All eight of the children rescued on Sunday and Monday are reported to be in good health - both physically and mentally.
'All eight are in good health, no fever... everyone is in a good mental state,' Jesada Chokedamrongsuk, permanent secretary of the public health ministry, said at a news conference this morning.
The elite team of cave divers who were quickly recruited from around the world was led by Stanton and Volanthen. Both are members of the volunteer unit, the British Cave Rescue Council, formed in 1967, which is a coordinating body for cave rescues in the UK and across the world.
Stanton and Volathen were part of the first team to reach the boys last week. Captured on video you could hear Volathen say: ‘How many of you? Thirteen. Brilliant.’
Stanton is a 57-year-old retired fireman from Coventry who got interested in caving as a teenager as a Scout. He saw a television programme about what was then the longest cave dive in the Alps. He later joined caving and diving clubs at university.
He was awarded an MBE in 2012 for his services to cave diving rescue. One of Stanton's most famous rescues was that of six British soldiers who were trapped inside a flooded cave in Mexico in 2004 for eight days. During the operation, the BBC reported, he managed to encourage one of men, who was terrified of water, to make a 180m dive to escape the cave.
Stanton has also been awarded for firefighting, being named ‘Hero of the Year’ for his West Midlands region in 2011.
In a rare interview, he said; ‘The thing about cave-diving is that it is such a low-key sport. The people who do it are often quite understated, and certainly don't want to be up on any kind of pedestal, me included.’
Volanthen, 47, is Stanton’s long-standing dive partner. He is an IT consultant from Bristol. He also started serious caving and diving while at universty.
In a 2013 interview with the Sunday Times, Volantehen said remaining calm was the secret of cave diving.
‘Panic and adrenaline are great in certain situations — but not in cave diving. The last thing you want is any adrenaline whatsoever,’ he said.
‘What you want is nice and boring. Underwater, things happen slowly.’
The pair was awarded a Royal Humane Society medal in 2010 after an eight-day operation to find the body of French caver Eric Establie. Stanton said he was ‘astounded’ to receive the award.
Stanton and Volanthen requested the help of Australian caver and doctor Richard Harris for the Thai rescue mission. Harris has more than 30 years experience in cave rescues. He examined all the boys before they attempted the series of rescue dives and decided on the order in which they should come out of the cave.
Bill Griggs used to be Harris' boss at South Australia's emergency medical retrieval service, MedSTAR, where the anaesthetist still works.
‘To do cave-diving, you have to be all about attention to detail and you have to be meticulous,’ Dr Griggs has told ABC radio.
‘The combination of his medical knowledge and his cave-diving skills was clearly (why) the British guys requested that he come as well.’
Harris in 2011 and 2012, led a team of Aussie divers to record depths of 194m and 221m in what's believed to be one of the world's deepest cold water caves, searching for the source of the Pearse River.
Also part of the team is leading British cave divers Chris Jewell, the diving officer of the BCRC who has recently returned from an expedition in Mexico trying to link two cave systems and Jason Mallison who both flew into Thailand this week to help with the rescue.