British diver John Volanthen has revealed how he pushed the limits of human endurance in the life-or-death mission to rescue the Thai youth soccer team trapped for over a week in a flooded cave in his book due to be released on 13th July.
The world held its breath in 2018 when the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach went missing deep underground in the Tham Luang cave complex in northern Thailand. They had been stranded by sudden, continuous monsoon rains while exploring the caves after practice.
As the torrential rain persisted and the waters continued to rise, an army of rescue teams and equipment was deployed, including Thai Navy SEALs, a US Air Force special tactics squadron, police sniffer dogs, drones and robots. But it was British cave diver John Volanthen and his partner, Rick Stanton, who were first to reach the stranded team and who played a key role in their ultimate rescue.
The picture of them alive on a ledge in a flooded cave made front page news worldwide. Veteran British cave diver John Volanthen can still summon up the disbelief he felt when he found the boys, trapped for ten days deep inside a labyrinth of flooded caves in Tham Luang, Thailand, after the world had written them off as dead.
‘I was incredulous. It just seemed so improbable,’ he says now. He remembers the first clue. In the ink-black darkness of the cave it was a smell — ‘heavy and ripe; strong enough to twist the stomach’ — that first alerted him and long-time diving partner Rick Stanton to what they assumed would be a graveyard.
‘Oh, no, Rick. That’s rotting flesh,’ said John. Except it wasn’t. ‘It was hard to take in the reality of what was happening. A group of boys had gathered silently at the water’s edge and were pointing at us. I’d prepared myself to find corpses or at best to go through the ghastly business of separating the breathing from the dead. I’d expected some bodies in various stages of decomposition.’
But there they were. Alive. Twelve boys, aged 11 to 17, and their 25-year old coach.
John, 49, an IT consultant and Scout leader from Bristol with a 14-year-old son of his own, is a likeable, unassuming man, not given to heroics or exaggeration. He still grapples with the miracle of how the boys did not die.
‘It seemed unthinkable they’d survived. Yet there they were. I shouted: ‘How many of you?’
It was John’s voice that reverberated round the world in a widely broadcast video in June 2018: the two divers had been given a camera by the elite force the Thai Navy SEALs and asked to film whatever they encountered.
Rick by then was counting. He got to 13. ‘Brilliant,’ said John. As John’s light flickered from one boy to another, he called out, ‘How many of you?’ ‘Thirteen,’ a boy answered. ‘Brilliant,’ he said. After 10 days trapped in desperate blackness, the boys and their coach were all alive.
Each chapter of Thirteen Lessons that Saved Thirteen Lives tells one part of the edge-of-your-seat mission from Tham Luang but also imparts a life lesson, gleaned from John’s previous rescues and record-breaking cave dives, that can be applied to everyday obstacles and challenges.
In this story of breathtaking courage and mental mastery, John reveals how responding positively to the statement, ‘But I can’t…’ by stating, ‘I can,’ led to one of the most incredible rescues in history.