Meet the seven British divers playing leading roles in the Thai cave rescue mission

It was the most challenging underground rescue in history, and Thai authorities drafted in more than 90 of the world’s finest special forces soldiers.

But the spearhead of the Thai cave rescue operation depended on seven British civilians who learnt their craft exploring the chilly waters of abandoned mines and limestone caves of England and Wales.

Vernon Unsworth

First on the scene was Vernon Unsworth, who is from St Albans but now lives in Thailand. 

Mr Unsworth, an experienced diver who now lives close to the caves, was crucial in persuading Thai authorities to bring in UK expertise. 

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"When Thai Navy Seals went into the cave but they could not see anything because the water is so muddy so they came back,  Chaiyon Srisamut, a friend of Mr Unsworth,  told the Daily Mail. 

British caver Vernon Unsworth gets out of a pick up truck near the Tham Luang cave complexCredit:
REUTERS/Panu Wongcha-um

"He knew some English guys who could definitely help." 

John Volanthen and Rick Stanton 

With the go-ahead from Thai authorities, Mr Unsworth contacted John Volanthen, an IT consultant based in Bristol, and Rick Stanton, a former midlands fire fighter.  

The pair have been described as the "A Team" by Bill Whitehouse, vice chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council. 

John Volanthen Credit:

Mr Stanton, 56, Mr Volanthen, 47, discovered the boys and their coach trapped in an air pocket 2.5 miles into the cave system last week.

Richard William Stanton, Robert Charles Harper and John VolanthenCredit:

Mr Whitehous told Radio 4’s Today programme last week: "They have been at the spearhead of making their way through because they have the skills and expertise to do it.

"One of the first things they had to do in pushing through is lay a guideline so that they could get out again and so others could follow along."

Richard Stanton Credit:
 Coventry Telegraph

Voices heard on a video of the moment the group was discovered in the cave belong to Mr Stanton and Mr Volanthen.

The pair have established a reputation as being among the greatest cave rescue divers on the planet – but both have day jobs in the UK.

Mr Stanton has been a firefighter in Coventry for quarter of a century, while Mr Volanthen is an IT consultant based in Bristol.

Chris Jewell and Jason Mallison

The British team were joined by two more divers: Chris Jewell and Jason Mallison of the Cave Diving Group, Britain’s oldest amateur association of subterranean divers. 

Both are considered experts in the tight-knit community of cave divers.  Mr Mallison previously rescued six British cavers from Mexico’s Cueva de Alpazat cave system.

In 2010, he joined up with Mr Stanton and Mr Volanthen to break the record for the longest ever cave dive.

The trio, along with Dutch explorer Rene Houben, spent 50 hours underground charting 5.5 miles of previously unexplored submerged caves in Mexico.

Tim Acton

Also on the scene was Tim Acton, 39, who grew up in Harwich and first learnt his trade diving off the Essex coast.

He moved to Southeast Asia 12 years ago and now runs a holiday complex in Thailand with his wife, Took.

In 2004 he was caught up in the Boxing Day Tsunami and earned a commendation from the British Ambassador for his efforts to save lives when the village where he was running a diving school was swamped.

He was invited to join the cave rescue by contacts in the Thai Navy SEALs.

He was inside the cave system several times during the operation.

During the rescue operation, his father, John, 71, said: “There’s a total media blackout at the moment so we are getting no information. 

Tim Acton and his familyCredit:
Family handout

“All I know is Tim got a call to go on stand by to go to the caves by the Thai Naval Seals and he had to send the measurements of his shoulders because they didn’t know if his shoulders were too big to go in there.

 “Then he got the call to go to (Chiang Rai) they picked him up to go to the airport, apparently they are in excellent accommodation. 

“He was told there were 55 naval seals in Team One and in Team Two, which he was to be part of, was the supply team with 20 ex-Naval Seals and two Westerners – Tim and his mate who is a Spaniard. 

“Up until Saturday besides the two English divers who found them they were the only two Western divers, since them I’m led to believe an Australian cave diving team has gone in there.

“I’m very proud of the fact of his selflessness. He’s doing nothing different to what our armed forces, police and firemen do every day, by putting his life at risk to help someone else. 

“I spoke to him just before he left … he said he was feeling a bit nervous which I was pleased about. 

“If he didn’t have any nerves I’d be a bit worried.”