Diver who helped in cave rescue says he is not a hero

Diver Rick Stanton said he would see the boys again 'sometime in the future'. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Diver Rick Stanton said he would see the boys again 'sometime in the future'. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
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One of the divers who helped save 12 schoolboys and their football coach from a flooded cave in Thailand played down his actions as he returned to Britain.

Rick Stanton denied he was a hero and said he was using a “very unique skill set” to “give something back to the community”.

Mr Stanton and several other British divers joined the rescue mission after the football team became trapped in a cave network in Chiang Rai province following monsoon rains.

The retired fireman, from Coventry, and his colleague, John Volanthen, from Bristol, were the first divers to reach the stranded group in the Luang Nang Non Cave.

They launched a mission to rescue the boys and their 25-year-old coach, which ended with all 12 boys and the coach returned to safety on Tuesday after an 18-day ordeal.

The operation claimed the life of Thai navy diver Saman Kunan, who died while replenishing oxygen canisters.

It was a particularly treacherous operation, as the boys, aged 11 to 16, had to swim through tight spaces despite having no previous diving experience.

Speaking on his return to the UK, Mr Stanton said: “Are we heroes? No, we were just using a very unique skill set, which we normally use for our own interests, and sometimes we are able to use that and give something back to the community.

“This was completely uncharted, unprecedented territory and nothing like this has been done. So, of course there were doubts.

“I knew that we had a good team, with good support from the Thai authorities, the caving community and rescue organisations, so we had the best we could do to make a plan work.”

Mr Stanton described his relief as he and Mr Volanthen discovered that the boys were still alive – nine days after they went missing deep within the labyrinth.

“Initially, of course, excitement, relief that they were still alive. As they were coming down the slope, we were counting them until we got to 13 … unbelievable,” he said. “We gave them a little bit of extra light, they still had light, they looked in good health.

“Then, of course, when we departed, all we could think about was how we were going to get them out.

“So there was relief, tempered with uncertainty.”

Mr Stanton would not describe how his team rescued the children, saying it was “too detailed for this point in time”.

At a press conference at Heathrow Airport, Mr Stanton declined to answer any medical questions. Asked if he would see the boys again, he replied: “I will see them sometime in the future. It will be good to get closure.”