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Divers who rescued 12 boys and a soccer coach from flooded Thai cave receive honorary degrees

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Two British divers who helped rescue a young football team from a flooded cave in Thailand in July 2018 have received honorary degrees from the University of Bristol. John Volanthen, from Bristol, and Rick Stanton, from Coventry, traveled 1.6 miles (2.5km) of constricted underwater passages, in near-zero visibility, against a fast-moving, debris-strewn current to save 12 boys and their football coach in what has been described as one of the greatest saves of all time. The unlikely heroes have been called up by the Thai government after heavy rains stranded the junior football team in Tham Luang, a cave complex in the north of the country.



According to a Press release by the University of Bristol, the highly publicized rescue involved 5,000 people, led by Volanthen and Stanton. The boys and their then 25-year-old coach were discovered in the cave on July 2, 2018, nine days after the search began, and had survived with little food and no shelter. Time was running out as the oxygen in their small air pocket was dwindling and more monsoon rains were forecast. “Having operated in difficult conditions, I was reasonably confident that I could manage my own safety. For the boys, it was extremely dangerous. Trying to get them out was something that had never been done before,” said Volanthen.

The rescue team eventually hatched a plan to inject each of the boys and their trainer with the anesthetic ketamine, the anti-anxiety drug Xanax, and atropine, which slows heart rate and reduces salivation. Once they administered the drugs with the help of an anesthetist, Volanthen and Stanton spent hours dragging the unconscious boys out of the submerged cave with a team of cave divers. Along the way, they had to inject the boys multiple times with the drug mix to keep them sedated throughout the rescue, despite their poor medical training. This was an extremely risky process, as the wrong dose of the drug could have woken them up and panicked – or never come to their senses – and put Volanthen and Stanton in a Thai court to answer for any incident.



Although this was one of many cave diving operations they had undertaken – including some to recover bodies – Volanthen revealed that “the scale and complexity of this particular problem was beyond the others”. Stanton agreed, adding: “It was unprecedented, nothing really compares. People cite it as one of the greatest rescues of all time. It was 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.”

Volanthen, an IT consultant who remains a scout leader in his home town of Long Ashton, and Stanton, a firefighter for the West Midlands Fire Service for 25 years, have both been awarded the George Medals, a non-military award for bravery, for successfully rescuing. The duo also set a record at Wookey Hole, Somerset, for the deepest dive recorded in a UK cave. They were named for their honorary degrees by Linda Wilson, Vice-President of the Speleological Society at the University of Bristol.

Image source: University of Bristol

“Rick, John and the other rescue divers have been asked to perform an impossible task,” Wilson 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. 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, for the 15 days of this massive rescue effort that captured the world’s attention.

Image source: University of Bristol

Volanthen and Stanton received their honorary degrees on Wednesday at the University of Bristol’s summer graduates. Stanton said it was an “absolute honor” to receive the award, while Volanthen added: “It’s an honor and a lesson in humility, especially considering others who have received the same prizes and have achieved far greater things than me.”