Heroic Rescue Divers Celebrated in Yew Year Honours List
The British divers who were instrumental in the rescue of 12 Thai youth footballers and their coach from a flooded cave system have been recognised in the New Year Honours List.
Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, the two divers who were first to reach the trapped boys, were both awarded the George Medal, the second-highest civilian award for bravery. Vernon Unsworth, Joshua Bratchley and Lance Corporal Connor Roe were appointed MBEs, and Christopher Jewell and Jason Mallinson were awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal.
The rescue operation, which made headline news across the world for its duration, saw all the members of the Wild Boars football team safely rescued on 10 July 2018. The boys had spent a total of 18 days trapped in the Tham Luang cave system near Chiang Rai in northern Thailand after heavy rains caused the narrow passages of the system to flood. Despite attempts to drain the caves, the forecast of further heavy rain forced the rescue team to take action by diving through the caves to bring the boys to safety. Sadly, former Thai Royal Navy diver Saman Gunan lost his life during the operation.
In an interview with BBC News, Mr Volanthen said that while the award was 'much appreciated', the most important thing was that the boys were rescued. 'I don't think anyone could ask for any greater honour than being able to be a part of the team that returned the Wild Boars to their families,' he said.
Rick Stanton, 57, is a retired firefighter from Coventry, and was previously awarded an MBE in 2012 for his services to cave diving rescue. John Volanthem, 47, is a Bristol based IT consultant and regular diving partner of Mr Stanton. Both are members of the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC).
Somerset-based Chris Jewell, 36, is currently the diving officer for the BCRC and recognised the close non-diving support provided to the team. 'Behind every one of the cave divers being honoured is a supporting cast of family, friends, rescue volunteers and employers,' said Jewell. Jason Mallinson, 50, from West Yorkshire, partnered with Mr Jewell during a 2013 expedition to the Sistema Huautla in Mexico, the deepest cave system in the western hemisphere and one of the most extensive in the world.
Vernon Unsworth, 63, a financial broker from St Albans who now lives in Thailand, Lieutenant Corporal Roe, 26, a Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineer from Scotland, and Joshua Bratchley, 27, a Met Office meteorologist based in Anglesey, Wales, all assisted with mapping the cave system and providing support to the rescue operation.
Mr Unsworth, who is currently seeking legal action against Elon Musk, who labelled him a 'pedo guy' during a Twitter spat, said: ‘This was a team effort, and I’m very honoured to have been recognised, particularly as you don’t engage in a major rescue expecting this outcome. For me, after saving the boys, this is the icing on the cake.’
Rick Stanton, John Volanthen, Chris Jewell and Jason Mallinson were also recently awarded PADI's first ever 'Medal of Valour', along with Australian medic Richard Harris.