British cave divers leave a message for the rescued Thai cave boys before leaving for UK
After days of searching, the British divers — one of the best in the world — succeeded in spotting the team huddled together on a rocky slope in the darkness, emaciated.
The heroic British divers, who volunteered to participate in the nearly impossible rescue mission to save 12 Thai boys and their football coach, left a heartfelt message for the children before flying to the UK from Thailand.
The soccer team, which calls themselves Wild Boar, was found on Monday night (last week) after they went missing during an excursion with their coach when they decided to walk into the cave network on June 23 and were trapped because of the rising waters.
After days of searching, the British divers — one of the best in the world — succeeded in spotting the team huddled together on a rocky slope in the darkness, emaciated, and thus began their rescue operation, which the Thai officials initially estimated could have lasted for days.
One of the divers, 50-year-old Jason Mallinson, from Huddersfield, said: "We're very glad we could get you out alive," and then reminded the rescued boys to "be careful in the future."
Mallinson and fellow diver 47-year-old John Volanthen, however, played down their crucial role in saving the children and said: "We are not heroes, quite the opposite."
Reports state that when Volanthen arrived at the Heathrow airport on Thursday morning, an unknown Thai woman hugged him and presented him chocolates for his efforts during the successful mission.
Volanthen, while talking to Sky News, said that he was relieved after spotting the boys inside the cave and they all got out of it alive after an 18-day ordeal.
"We were very pleased and we were very relieved that they were all alive but I think at that point we realized the enormity of the situation and that's perhaps why it took a while to get them all out," he said.
"We are not heroes. What we do is very calculating, very calm. It's quite the opposite," Volanthen added.
The divers were also greeted by a contingency of Thai government ministers who gifted them certificates and medals and promised them free travel to the country for life.
Thailand's ministers for Tourism and Travel, Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, reportedly awarded the British divers with medals and certificates from the Prime Minister and added: "Consider it free tickets to Thailand, any time."
While Tourism Minister Wirasak Kowsoorad said: "This is to show our appreciation, our Prime Minister asked for you to be given this. Thank you so much for your effort. It was a great rescue and we appreciate it. Now, both of you, you will always be welcome, any time, you have so many friends here."
Volanthen, who is an IT consultant from Bristol, rejected the suggestion of them being knighted for their heroism and said: "It's not like that – if you could do the same for someone else's child, you would. The result is the important thing. The kids came out, the coach is good, the [Thai navy] Seals are good – job done. So we're pleased with that."
Former Conservative Party treasurer Lord Ashcroft, on Twitter, suggested that Richard William Stanton and Volanthen could be awarded the George Cross or the George Medal for their bravery.