Thai cave rescue: British divers saved four Thai adults before operation to pull out schoolboys

Members of the effort to rescue the children revealed they first saved a group of locals looking for the boys who were in a desperate situation in the same caves

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 5:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 10:02pm

Two British divers who helped rescue a Thai youth soccer team from a flooded cave had earlier saved four adults stranded in the same complex, according to a new report on a mission that gripped the world.

The 12 boys and coach from the “Wild Boars” club were trapped by rising waters as they explored the zigzagging passages of Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand on June 23.

Officials leading the rescue called on the expertise of the world’s cave diving community – many from England – who formed a dream team led by Thai Navy Seals.

On the ninth-day of a nail-biting rescue, British divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen found the youth group dishevelled and thin on a muddy bank, where they had survived on rainwater dripping from rocks.

They were pulled out a week later in a three-day extraction, during which the boys were sedated and carried to the cave entrance.

How the Thai cave rescue mission unfolded

But days earlier, it emerged, the Britons unexpectedly found four Thais who – unknown to rescuers – had themselves become trapped by floodwater while trying to find the children.

Many well-meaning volunteers and locals had poured into the area near the border with Laos and Myanmar to try to help.

Speaking this week at a “Hidden Earth” caving event in Somerset, England, Stanton said he and Volanthen accidentally encountered the four Thai water company workers on June 28.

They had been trapped for about 24 hours and their situation was desperate, according to the caving news website Darkness Below in an article quoting Stanton.

Muddy water was “churning, swirling and eddying around them”, it said, and the water level was rising.

But Stanton and Volanthen had only their personal breathing equipment with them. They solved the problem through a staggered approach.

First the two Britons dived back through the flooded passageway to reach the next level of dry ground en route to the cave entrance.

Then one of took off his gear. The other one swam back to the Thais with the breathing equipment, to bring them out one at a time.

This exposed the waiting diver to possible drowning had the area flooded suddenly. But despite a brief technical glitch with the gear, they all made it out safely, the article said.

The details were not released to the media that descended on the site.

Thai Well Water Association president Surapin Chaichompoo, who was one of the men rescued, told on Wednesday how he and three of his employees spent two days draining water from the cave to try to help the rescue then took a nap and found themselves trapped inside with the water rising.

He said on their third day, the two British divers stumbled upon them.

Surapin said he was unable to contact them afterwards and would like to thank them.

The tricky incident foreshadowed concerns about the rescue of the boys, who were not experienced divers, prompting fears they could panic.

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“It’s one of the most remarkable aspects of this whole event that such an amazing thing was a mere sideshow that never even made the press,” Les Williams, chairman of the British Caving Association, was quoted as saying about the rescue of the four adults.

Details of the incident are still captivating the public, prompting books and film treatments in a scramble to cash in on the saga.

Interest has been further fuelled by a lawsuit against tech billionaire Elon Musk brought by a different British diver who lives in Thailand.

Musk called the caver, who was integral to the rescue because of his knowledge of Tham Luang, a “pedo” on his Twitter account. He gave no evidence to support the allegation.

The billionaire’s offer to help with the rescue had been rebuffed as impractical by authorities as well as by expert divers, including the caver in question.

Additional reporting by Associated Press