British divers who found stranded Thai group among best cave rescuers in world

Richard Stanton, left, and John Volanthen (AP) Credit: AP

Two British divers were the first rescuers to reach a stranded group of 12 boys and their football coach who had been missing for nine days in flooded caves in Thailand.

Rick Stanton and John Volanthen joined the vast search after the group disappeared in the Luang Nang Non Cave, Chiang Rai province, on June 23.

The elite divers have established reputations as being among the best cave rescuers in the world, and were called upon by Thai authorities who were seeking expert help.

Mr Stanton, a fireman from Coventry, previously said his greatest achievement was helping rescue trapped British soldiers from a cave in Mexico in 2004.

Regarded as one of the world’s leading cave rescue experts, he told publication Divernet that diving is a “hobby” he does voluntarily.

Mr Stanton, aged in his 50s, was made an MBE at the end of 2012, and told the Coventry Telegraph at the time: “My biggest achievement was helping rescue the six soldiers.

“They were trapped for nine days and we had to teach a few of them to dive through a considerable length of passage to get them out.

“It took about nine hours to get them all out.”

He has said his toughest challenge was attempting to rescue accomplished French diver Eric Establie in 2010, whose remains were discovered in southern France.

Mr Stanton said the 10-day mission was “a very dangerous dive and a very dangerous cave”, the paper reported.

Mr Volanthen was also Mr Stanton’s partner on the French rescue attempt, after the elite pair were flown out to help find Mr Establie.

Both men were awarded a bronze medal from the Royal Humane Society in recognition of their rescue attempt in the Ardeche Gorge, southern France.

The rescue site is now a hub of activity with hundreds of volunteers. Credit: AP

Mr Volanthen, an IT consultant in his 40s and based in Bristol, was also part of a British team with Mr Stanton which reportedly set a world record for a deep underwater cave dive in Spain in 2010.

The pair are members of the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue team, and Mr Volanthen has described caving as requiring a cool head, saying: “Underwater, things happen slowly.”

He told the Sunday Times magazine in 2013: “Panic and adrenaline are great in certain situations but not in cave-diving. What you want is nice and boring.

“If something goes wrong 10 kilometres down an underwater tunnel, you usually have until your air runs out to find a solution or make your peace.”

Mr Volanthen, originally from Brighton, attended Westminster University and has worked in Bristol for the past 20 years, according to his LinkedIn page.

A third Briton, Robert Harper, an experienced diver reportedly from Somerset, also flew out after hearing about the search operation.