“How many of you? 13? Brilliant.”
Those were the first words uttered by British cave diver Rick Stanton when he and dive partner John Volanthen discovered the ‘Wild Boars’ Thai Soccer team trapped in the Tham Luang caves in Northern Thailand last Monday.
But who are these two brave men who risked their lives to search for the 12 young boys and their coach trapped by an unfortunate turn of events.
Widely regarded as two of the best cave divers in the world, Stanton and Volanthen have been partnering as cave divers for the best part of the last 20 years.
Setting world cave diving records across the globe, from the Wookey Hole in Somerset England to the famous Pozo Azul in Spain, where they set the world record for the longest cave penetration dive of 8,800m back in 2010. These men have conquered the mysterious depths and survived the treacherous conditions that many of us will never see.
Stanton, a retired firefighter who’s been described as quiet and unassuming by friends, has been cave diving since attending Aston University in Birmingham back in 1979. The documentary film “The Underground Eiger” introduced a young Stanton to the world beneath our feet, and set him on his journey to becoming one of the most experienced and accomplished divers of our time.
In 2004, along with Volanthen, he led a team of rescuers into the Alpazat caves in Puebla, Mexico to rescue six British divers that had been trapped for eight days.
“My biggest achievement was helping rescue the six soldiers,” he told the Coventry Telegraph in 2012.
“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.”
Along with his fellow British Cave Rescue Council member John Volanthen, the men received Bronze Medals from the the Royal Humane Society for their attempt to rescue the body of French diver Eric Establie. Establie, an experienced diver in his own right, had become trapped in the Ardèche Gorge near Marseille. But the rescue attempt was unsuccessful.
An IT consultant by day in Bristol, Volanthen has joined Stanton as one of the foremost experts in cave diving rescue. He partnered with Stanton in their discovery of the Pozo Azul in 2004, they then returned in 2005, diving further into the cave on their second attempt. Setting up camp to dive over 3 days, a short documentary by Mark Taylor, “Into The Darkness”, covered their journey into the perilous, but beautiful unknown.
When not cave diving, Volanthen spends his time competing in Marathons and Ultra Marathons, whilst being heavily involved in the community as a Scout Leader in his local Somerset. In an interview with the Sunday Times in 2013, Volanthen spoke of his love of cave diving.
“It’s not dangerous if you do it right,” he said, “there are just are a large number of little things that you have to be on top of at all times.”
“Panic and adrenalin are great in certain situations, but not in cave diving. What you want is nice and boring.”
So as the rescue in Thailand drew to a close, with Stanton and Volanthen at the centre of the rescue operations, the world watched in anticipation and admiration at the bravery of these two men.
“His father died none months ago, but he’d be so proud of him,” said Jill Volanthen, John’s mother, speaking to the Daily Mail.
“I’m just relieved that he’s safe and that they’ve rescued everyone. My feet haven’t touched the ground since yesterday.”
And that’s a feeling that the rest of the world can all agree on.