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Theresa May salutes ‘heroics’ of Britons involved in Thai cave rescue

Divers and the support team were welcomed to Downing Street on Tuesday.

British divers who helped to save 12 schoolboys and their football coach from a flooded cave in Thailand have been hailed as “great heroes” by the Prime Minister.

The cave divers were at Number 10 for a reception with Theresa May on Tuesday afternoon.

John Volanthen, from Bristol, was one of the first divers to reach the stranded group in the Luang Nang Non Cave and was among those who stood for a photograph on Downing Street with the PM and Thai ambassador Pisanu Suvanajata.

Mrs May thanked the divers, adding: “They did extremely well. We can be very proud of them. They did a fantastic job. They’re great heroes.

“John said they’re not heroes, but I think every one of them is a hero.”

The divers launched a mission to rescue the boys and their 25-year-old coach, which concluded after an 18-day ordeal.

Speaking at the reception, Mrs May said: “This was an amazing rescue mission. On hearing about the boys who were trapped most people would have just stood by but you chose to go out there and do something about it.

“The eyes of the world were on you and I think I can speak for everyone when I say a huge thank you.”

The operation claimed the life of Thai navy diver Saman Kunan, who died while replenishing oxygen canisters.

The rescue was particularly treacherous because the boys, aged 11 to 16, had to swim through tight spaces despite having no diving experience.

Others at Downing Street were divers Chris Jewell and Connor Roe, both from Somerset, Josh Bratchley, from Devon, and Robert Harper, also believed to be from Somerset.

British expat Vern Unsworth, who was living in Thailand and had experience of the caves where the boys became stuck, was also part of the rescue operation and was part of the group meeting the PM.

Billionaire Elon Musk apologised to Mr Unsworth after calling him “pedo guy”.

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Divers involved in the rescue arriving back at Heathrow Airport after their mission (Steve Parsons/PA)

The Twitter comment came amid a spat between Mr Musk and Mr Unsworth, who had claimed the Tesla founder’s offers to help save the children were a “PR stunt”.

Mr Unsworth had said he was considering legal action, while some investors in Mr Musk’s company had demanded an apology.

Leaving Downing Street, Mr Volanthen, 47, said: “We’re all very honoured. We’re obviously happy to acknowledge British contribution to an international effort.”

Asked about the global media attention surrounding the rescue when it was ongoing, he said: “We ignored it and focused on what needed doing.”

A lot of people put in a lot of effort and the result was fantastic John Volanthen

Mr Volanthen said they were “pleasantly surprised” that it went so well, adding: “It was never a foregone conclusion that it would go so well.

“We were very happy. A lot of people put in a lot of effort and the result was fantastic.”

Mr Volanthen said Mrs May was “very complimentary”.

Reflecting on the moment he knew all the boys were safe, he said: “Safe being out of the cave, we were all very relieved.

“That was the main emotion because there was a lot that could have gone wrong.”

Mr Volanthen, along with diver Rick Stanton, discovered that the boys were still alive nine days after they went missing deep within the labyrinth.

Recalling that moment, he said: “We were very pleased but I think we were both aware that there’s a very big difference between being alive inside the cave and being alive outside the cave.”

He added: “We weren’t sure what we would find so we were very pleased that they were alive and well.”

Mr Volanthen paid tribute to the skill and dedication of others, saying: “It was an honour to join the incredible effort to rescue of these boys and their coach, and I would like to personally add particular reference to the skill and dedication of the many military groups and civilians we worked alongside, especially the Thai navy Seals.

“I would also like to extend my thoughts to the family of Saman Kunan.”

Bill Whitehouse, vice chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC), said: “The Thailand operation was a unique occasion when individual cave divers and cave rescuers from many teams came together and worked as a truly national team under the BCRC banner.

“In total eight cave divers and three other cave rescuers travelled out to Thailand to help with the search and then the rescue.

“They were backed up by a support team in the UK of BCRC officers and members of various teams.

“It has been both gratifying and humbling to experience how cave rescuers, cave divers and the wider caving world worked together during the 18-day operation to play such a significant part in pulling off what many thought to be an impossible task.

“It has undoubtedly been one of the most incredible cave rescues ever.”

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