7 Medals and a Cave Dive - New Year's Honour Awards for the Thai Rescuers

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7 Medals and a Cave Dive - New Year's Honour Awards for the Thai Rescuers

December 28, 2018 - 23:56
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Six British divers and one caver involved in the 2018 Thai cave rescue are to be recognised by Her Majesty The Queen in the 2019 New Year's Honours List.

12 divers and cavers were recently reunited at EUROTEK. From left to right Chris Jewell, Erik Brown, Mikko Paasi, Jim Warny, Craig Challen, Richard Harris, Rick Stanton, John Volanthen, Jason Mallinson, Josh Bratchley, Connor Roe and Rob Harper | Image Credit / Copyright Peter Symes All Rights Reserved

Our employers have been very understanding throughout the entire process for which we're really grateful. We'd like to sincerely thank everyone who helped us in any capacity and make it clear that such a rescue could never work otherwise - the diving was just the tip of a very large iceberg. Thank you. Josh Bratchley

On Tuesday 10 July 2018 probably the most audacious cave rescue ever seen concluded after an eighteen day process. The world held its breath as the successful recovery of 12 young footballers and their coach from deep inside Tham Luang cave took place. The unique rescue involved thousands of volunteers and workers from a host of countries including Thailand, Australia, China and the USA.

A number of key Brits with specialist skills were also called in to join the international team because cavers tend to add value to cave rescues. When cavers are not involved in this kind of rescue, the outcome is usually much worse.

It's worth noting that the UK has a long history of cave rescue, domestic and overseas cave exploration and surveying, and this was certainly the case in Thailand. The UK team supported and worked alongside the Thai rescuers, with the search and subsequent rescue fully controlled by the Thai authorities.

Rick Stanton and John Volanthen

Rick Stanton, john Volanthen, Humane Society, X-Ray Mag, XRay Magazine, Rosemary E Lunn, Roz Lunn, scuba diving news, New Years Honours List
In 2012 Princess Alexandra presented Rick Stanton and John Volanthen with the Royal Humane Society award in recognition of their efforts to rescue Eric Establie, a French cave diver. This is only one of the cave rescues Stanton and Volanthen have been involved in.

 

Cave divers , along with (an experienced caver of some 40 years standing) flew out to Thailand on Tuesday 26 June.

Harper joined other experts, and spent several days searching the mountain for an alternative way into the cave. Meanwhile Stanton and Volanthen played a critical leading role over the next three weeks in both the planning and execution of the rescue mission. Their first significant contribution was on Thursday 28 June during a reconnaissance dive.

The divers dived a series of three short sumps to reach Chamber 3. When Stanton and Volanthen surfaced four people ran towards them under the assumption that the divers were there to rescue them. It later transpired that Rick and John had discoverd four Thai men who had been looking after a water pump and had become trapped by the rising water levels. Rick Stanton and John Volanthen took it in turns to dive the Thai workers out.

The Monsoon weather hampered exploration dives - strong currents, poor / nil visibility and debris / obstructions - and made line laying challenging. It took four days for Stanton and Volanthen to dive / travel 1,500 metres beyond Chamber 3. On 2 July the divers found the football team marooned on a ledge above the water.

All we could think about was how we were going to get them out. Rick Stanton

Initially the Thai authorities were keen to go down the route of a non-diving rescue, however this option was shelved when it became obvious that a diving rescue was the only solution because of the Monsoon rains. A British-led plan was approved by the Thai authorities and the rescue commenced on Sunday 8 July.

We realised the enormity of the situation and that’s perhaps why it took awhile to get them out. I was completely confident we would see them again. Having said that ‘alive in a cave’ and ‘alive outside a cave’ are two very different things. John Volanthen

Chris Jewell and Jason Mallinson

Jason Mallinson, Chris Jewell, Thai Cave Rescue, PADI, Medal of Valour, Rosemary E Lunn, Roz Lunn, XRay Mag, XRay Magazine, New Years Honours, scuba diving news
In 2013 Jason Mallinson (left) and Chris Jewell (right) were part of a team that explored the Sistema Huautla in Mexico. This is the deepest cave in the western hemisphere.

 

It soon became clear that Rick Stanton and John Volanthen would need to augment the cave diving team, and expedition cave divers flew out to Thailand with 500kg / 1102 lbs on Wednesday 4 July.

They conducted a number of dives into the cave sherping in supplies to the boys and checking gas levels in the cave. In an impromptu moment Jason Mallinson gave his Wetnotes to the football team so that they could write a short letter to their respective families. Mallinson later said the boys "never knew they were going to get out of there, it could have been the last message they ever gave to their parents. I think they wanted to put their parents’ minds at rest."

Both Jewell and Mallinson had moments. Chris Jewell was responsible for bringing out three of the boys. During Jewell's final rescue trip, he lost his grip on the dive line and spent four minutes adrift with one of the young boys before finding his way to safety.

A rescue mission like this cannot happen without huge levels of support from the word go. It will always take a great number to get a few to the end, but the reward is always felt by the whole team. Chris Jewell

Jason Mallinson was also responsible for bringing out three boys. He brought out the first and last boy to be rescued, plus the coach. During the last rescue, the child’s allotted full face mask did not fit properly, so Mallinson had to make the critical decision to use a different type of mask. This resulted a much slower and more cautious exit, and increased the risk and complexity of the process.

You can tell a kid whatever you want, but in an actual situation where you’ve got a kid in the water, they’re more than likely going to panic. Jason Mallinson

The Awesome Foursome

Rick Stanton, John Volanthen, Jason Mallinson and Chris Jewell were the core recovery divers in the team, ie they dived the boys out. They were soon nicknamed "the awesome foursome" by fellow Thai cave rescue diver, Dr Richard Harris. Because of their crucial dives in the Thailand cave rescue, these four Brit divers will receive a civilian gallantry award - these medals recognise the bravery of people who have sought to save the lives of others. In addition two support divers and a caver - Josh Bratchley, Connor Roe and Vern Unsworth - will become Members of the British Empire.

Josh Bratchley will receive the MBE

"For services to cave diving overseas"

Thai Cave Rescue, Josh Bratchley, Rosemary Lunn, Roz Lunn, X-Ray Mag, XRay Magazine, scuba diving news
The situation demanded high levels of adaptability and calm under all circumstances, so trust among members of the dive team was very important. Josh Bratchley, along with all the other divers, was handpicked to join the rescue team.

 

It's incredible to be recognised in such a way and all of us on the team are extremely appreciative of all the support that we've received from family, friends, cavers, divers, colleagues and strangers alike. Josh Bratchley

Chris Jewell will receive the Queen's Gallantry Medal

"For gallantry of a high order in the rescue of 12 junior footballers and their coach, trapped in a cave in Thailand"

Chris Jewell, Boreham Cave, Thai Cave Rescue, New Years Honours, X-Ray Mag, XRay Magazine, Rosemary E Lunn, Roz Lunn
Chris Jewell pictured here in Boreham Cave later confirmed that the team used a strategy that had never been attempted before. None of the team felt comfortable in being called heroes - they are divers with a set of unique skills aquired over many years of extreme exploration.

 

Behind every one of the cave divers being honoured is a supporting cast of family, friends, rescue volunteers and employers. The support and help from all these people made it possible for us to complete a successful rescue. I’ve been really touched by the way everyone has responded. Not only the caving and diving communities which have rallied around us but also the support and assistance we’ve had from our employers and work colleagues. Chris Jewell

Jason Mallinson will receive the Queen's Gallantry Medal

"For gallantry of a high order in the rescue of 12 junior footballers and their coach, trapped in a cave in Thailand"

Jason Mallinson, Thai Cave Rescue, Rosemary E Lunn, Roz Lunn, The Underwater Marketing Company, XRay Magazine, X-Ray Magazine, scuba diving news
Jason Mallinson described the process of diving a child out of Tham Luang Cave. "Once you set off with a kid it is a one-way journey. You aren't going back to where they started...it was a case of getting him out. A bit brutal, but alive or dead." | Image Credit / Copyright Rosemary E Lunn All Rights Reserved

 

Thank you to everyone for the amazing support we had both during and following the rescue. Jason Mallinson

Connor Roe will receive the MBE

"For services to cave diving overseas"

Connor Roe, Thai Cave Rescue, Rosemary Lunn, Roz Lunn, X-Ray Mag, XRay Magazine, scuba diving news, New Years Honours
Connor Roe was located in a chamber roughly halfway to the boys’ location. When a rescue diver would arrive with an unconscious boy Roe would complete a series of checks, ie how much gas was left in the boy's cylinder. (He would exchange it if it was requried). He would then help guide the unconscious boy through a long river section which involved some low air spaces and short dives.

 

I feel very privileged to receive this honour. I simply did my part within an outstanding team that pulled together to change these boys lives. Connor Roe

Rick Stanton MBE will receive the George Medal

"For demonstrating exceptional bravery - putting [himself] in danger to protect others"


Rick Stanton did some most extraordinary dives through Tham Luang cave, laying very robust rope that made all subsequent dives to the boys not only possible, but safe. The effort and skill in doing this cannot be underestimated. It's very easy to follow someone else’s line than lay line and find your own way. | Image Credit / Copyright Rosemary E Lunn All Rights Reserved

 

Rick is the quiet man who quietly and continuously, with incredible determination, starts at A and gets to Z, and achieves things. Nothing stands in his way. He is one of those individuals who is going to get there. Martyn Farr, cave explorer and author

Vern Unsworth will receive the MBE

"For services to cave diving overseas"

Vern Unsworth, Thai Cave Rescue, Rosemary Lunn, Roz Lunn, X-Ray Mag, XRay Magazine, scuba diving news, Queens New Years Honours List

Vern Unsworth, a caving expert of some 47 years standing, knew that specialist cave diving expertise would be urgently needed at Tham Luang Cave. On Monday 25 June 2018 he advised the Thai authorities in a note that time was running out and suggested that Rob Harper, Rick Stanton MBE and John Volanthen should be called in to assist with the search for the missing football team.

 

This was a TEAM effort and I'm very honoured to be recognised with an MBE, particularly as you don't go into a major rescue expecting such a positive outcome for those in trouble. For me saving the kids is the icing on the cake. All very humbling. Vern Unsworth

John Volanthen will receive the George Medal

"For demonstrating exceptional bravery - putting [himself] in danger to protect others"

Thai Cave Rescue, John Volanthen, David Dyson, Pozo Azul, Rosemary Lunn, Roz Lunn, X-Ray Mag, XRay Magazine, scuba diving news
John Volanthen was a natural choice for this rescue. He is a competent, highly accomplished caver diver who have set achievements within a number of major cave systems around Europe. John is pictured here surfacing after a long expedition dive in Pozo Azul (2001) | Image Credit: David Dyson

 

It is an honour to have been recognised for my actions during the Tham Luang cave rescue, however success was achieved by a large team from the UK, Thailand and many other nations. As a parent, the special part of the incident was to be able to assist in returning the wild boar football team to their families. John Volanthen

The George Medal

Just over seventy eight years ago, on 24 September 1940, the George Medal was instituted by Royal Warrant. It was the time of the Blitz, when Germany was actively bombing Britain's cities, and King George VI believed that there was a need to formally recognise outstanding individual acts of civilian bravery by men and women of the Commonwealth.

for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger

"In order that they should be worthily and promptly recognised, I have decided to create, at once, a new mark of honour for men and women in all walks of civilian life. I propose to give my name to this new distinction. King George VI"

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