British divers rescued four Thai adults from flooded cave complex before saving trapped children

Two British divers who helped rescue a Thai youth football team and their coach from a flooded cave in northern Thailand had earlier saved four adults also trapped in the underground labyrinth, according to a new report about the daring operation that gripped the world for two weeks. 

The 12 boys from the “Wild Boars” club and Ekapol Chanthawong, their coach, were cut off by rising floodwaters when they tried to explore the Tham Luang cave on June 23, and discovered nine days later by Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, who captured the moment in an astonishing video. 

However, in a previously unknown twist, the two caving experts thought they had found the boys three days earlier when they surfaced from the zig-zagging submerged passageways into one of the cave’s chambers to find four people. 

In fact, they had come across a group of inexperienced Thai water company workers who had got into difficulty during the chaotic early days of the rescue mission.

For 24 hours, nobody had noticed they were missing and the men were in a life-threatening situation as murky waters rose quickly.  

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The nail-biting encounter was described this week by Mr Stanton at a “Hidden Earth” cave-community event in Somerset, and reported by the caving news website Darkness Below. 

Muddy water was “churning, swirling and eddying around them”, it said, as the British divers quickly formulated an impromptu plan to extract them. 

The risky rescue involved one of the divers loaning his gear to each of the men to gradually bring them one by one to points of dry ground en route to the cave exit. In doing so, the waiting diver exposed himself to possible drowning if the water surged.   

The successful “snatch” extraction was key to building the British team’s credibility in the eyes of the Thai authorities, as was the advice of Vernon Unsworth, a British caving expert who lived locally and who had previously mapped out Tham Luang. 

Mr Unsworth reportedly saved many lives when he warned hundreds of rescuers working in a chamber to evacuate before it flooded.

He also persuaded the authorities to proceed with a quick extraction of the football team, advising that the waters would not recede until January. 

An earlier report by Darkness Below also revealed the monumental behind-the-scenes efforts of the British emergency services, caving and diplomatic community to support the frontline diving team. 

In one episode described by the website, the police cleared the fast lane of the M4 motorway to ensure that specialised child-size masks could be transported on time from a Cardiff-based club to a diver boarding an evening flight from Heathrow airport. 

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