British diver re­counts his ‘mas­sive re­lief’ at find­ing trapped boys

The Straits Times - - TOPOF THE NEWS -

LON­DON The British diver who found 12 Thai boys and their coach trapped alive in a flooded cave has de­scribed his “mas­sive re­lief” as he counted them one by one, in what he called an un­prece­dented res­cue op­er­a­tion.

Mr Richard Stan­ton, one of a pair of British cav­ing ex­perts who lo­cated the “Wild Boars” team, yes­ter­day gave re­porters a first-hand ac­count of the mo­ment he saw the boys emerge from be­hind a rock face onto a muddy ledge kilo­me­tres in­side the Tham Luang cave, Agence France-Presse re­ported.

“That was a mas­sive, mas­sive re­lief. Ini­tially, we weren’t cer­tain they were all alive – as they were com­ing down, I was count­ing them un­til I got to 13,” he said. “We could not see them ini­tially – they had to come round the cor­ner.”

The dis­cov­ery prompted the stun­ning res­cue of the boys which cap­ti­vated Thai­land and the world, with the fi­nal mem­bers fi­nally emerg­ing safely on Tues­day af­ter 18 days un­der­ground.

In or­der to res­cue the boys, divers had to con­tend with a treach­er­ous es­cape route made up of nar­row, wa­ter-filled tun­nels, with the threat of heavy rain in­ject­ing ur­gency to the bid.

The mis­sion was “an or­der of dif­fi­culty much higher than any­thing that has been ac­com­plished any­where around the world by any other cave div­ing team”, said Mr Stan­ton.

Footage of the mo­ment Mr Stan­ton and Mr John Volan­then dis­cov­ered the 12 di­shev­elled and ema­ci­ated boys was viewed mil­lions of times af­ter it was posted on the of­fi­cial Thai navy Seal Face­book page, prompt­ing hope for their res­cue.

“You hear on the video, John said ‘how many?’,” Mr Stan­ton said. “I had al­ready counted them, they were al­ready there.”

Fel­low diver Chris Jewell pro­vided new de­tails of the op­er­a­tion, de­scrib­ing how the Thai au­thor­i­ties had di­verted rivers on the moun­tain­top to help con­trol wa­ter lev­els in the cave, AFP re­ported.

The mea­sure “bought us ad­di­tional time to get this out­come”, Mr Jewell said.

Mr Stan­ton re­jected sug­ges­tions that the divers were he­roes.

“We were just us­ing a very, very unique skill set which we nor­mally use for our own in­ter­est,” he said. “Some­times, we are able to use that to give some­thing back to the com­mu­nity, and that is what we did.”

While sev­eral res­cuers have told AFP that the boys were trans­ported on stretch­ers for the whole hours­long ex­trac­tion jour­ney, all were un­will­ing to go on the record about the is­sue of se­da­tion.

The pres­ence of Aus­tralian anaes­thetist and diver Richard “Harry” Har­ris pointed to a unique op­er­a­tion.

With­out him “this mis­sion may not have suc­ceeded”, Thai res­cue chief Narongsak Osot­thanakorn told re­porters late on Wed­nes­day.

In a Face­book post yes­ter­day, Dr Har­ris lauded all those in­volved in the search-and-res­cue mis­sion, and cred­ited other divers for “lay­ing the very ro­bust rope (in the cave) which made all sub­se­quent dives to the soc­cer team not only pos­si­ble, but safe”.

“Fol­low­ing some­one else’s line is very much eas­ier than find­ing your own way,” he wrote.

He also gave credit to res­cue teams who pumped wa­ter out of the cave to lower the wa­ter level and sus­tain the div­ing op­er­a­tions.

“I have never seen any­thing like it with man bat­tling to con­trol the nat­u­ral forces of the mon­soon wa­ters,” he said. “The part we played has been made out to be a lot more noble than it ac­tu­ally was.”

“We just con­sider our­selves lucky to have had some skills that we could con­trib­ute to the won­der­ful out­come,” he added.

PHOTO: EPA-EFE

British cave divers (from right) John Volan­then and Richard Stan­ton, who dis­cov­ered the boys and their coach alive in­side the cave.

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