Thai cave rescue divers awarded honorary degrees
Two cave divers who managed the remarkable rescue of 13 people in a flooded cave system in Thailand have received honorary degrees.
The operation led by John Volanthen of Bristol and Rick Stanton of Coventry has been described as one of the greatest rescues of all time.
The unlikely heroes have been called up by the Thai government after heavy rain stranded 12 members of a junior football team and their assistant coach in a cave complex in the north of the country.
The rescue involved 5,000 people, with Mr Volanthen and Mr Stanton leading the risky search sorties.
The couple had to navigate 2.5 km of constricted underwater passages, in near-zero visibility, against a fast-moving, debris-strewn current.
On July 2, 2018, nine days after the search began, the 12 stranded boys and their coach were found.
But with the oxygen in their little air pocket dwindling and more monsoon rains forecast, time is running out.
Mr Volanthen said: “Having operated under difficult conditions, I was reasonably confident in my ability to manage my own safety.
“For the boys, it was extremely dangerous. Trying to get them out was something that had never been done before.
With the help of an anesthesiologist, each of the boys and their trainer were injected with the anesthetic ketamine, the anti-anxiety drug Xanax, and atropine, which slows heart rate and reduces salivation.
For several hours the unconscious boys were dragged and kicked out of the submerged cave by Mr. Volanthen, Mr. Stanton and a team of cave divers.
Despite their poor medical training, they had to inject the boys multiple times with the drug mix to keep them sedated throughout the rescue.
Any hiccup in the breathing apparatus could have drowned the boys unconscious, and the wrong dose of medicine could have woken them up and sent them freaking out – or put them to sleep forever.
If anything had gone wrong, they could have ended up in a Thai court.
Mr Stanton said: ‘It was unprecedented, nothing really compares. People cite him as one of the greatest rescues of all time.
“It lasted two and a half weeks and you had to think outside the box. We were literally writing the procedures, there was no manual – it had never been done before.
The couple have both been awarded George Medals for Lifesaving and have now received honorary degrees from the University of Bristol.
Linda Wilson, vice president of the university’s Spelaeological Society, nominated Mr. Volanthen and Mr. Stanton for their honorary degrees.
“Rick, John and the other rescue divers had to perform an impossible task,” she said.
“Fortunately, through a combination of extraordinary courage and meticulous planning, they overcame all odds and pulled off one of the most extraordinary rescues ever attempted, ultimately getting all 12 boys and their coach out alive despite the harshest conditions. dangerous imaginable.
“No one could better exemplify the values this university values - resilience, courage and exceptional skill – than Rick and John, who had to save the lives of so many others, while risking their own lives, daily, during the 15 days of this massive rescue effort that captured the world’s attention.
The couple plan to go diving together near Bristol the day after the graduation ceremony.