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THIRTEEN LESSONS THAT SAVED THIRTEEN LIVES: John Volanthen & the Thai Boys Cave Rescue

By Jim Gilles

Book cover of John Volanthem’s Thirteen Lessons

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 9/10/21 – A new book Thirteen Lessons That Saved Thirteen Lives (Quarto Publishing, 2021) by John Volanthen tells the nerve-wracking story of the Tham Luang mission to save the 12 Thai boys in the Wild Boars soccer team and their young coach from a flooded cave in Thailand during monsoon season. The Wild Boars football team, aged 11 to 16, became trapped 4km (2.5 miles) inside in the Tham Luang caves on 23 June 2018 after heavy rainfall. John Volanthen is a diver who played a key role in the rescue of the boys from a flooded cave in Thailand. His book explains how the mission unfolded. Each chapter also impacts a life lesson, gleaned from John’s previous rescues and record-breaking cave dives. These show how his approach can be applied to everyday obstacles and challenges. In this enthralling story of breathtaking courage and calm under extreme pressure, John reveals the mindset required for one of the most incredible rescues of all time.

Original photo of the stranded boys deep inside the flooded cave

In June 2018, he helped locate the youth soccer team deep inside the Tham Luang cave in Thailand near Chiang Rai. He and Richard Stanton were the first to make contact with them. Poor visibility, cave and rescue debris, and low temperatures were all obstacles to cave diving in search of the team. Volanthen was placing guidelines in the cave to assist others in navigation. He ran out of line, which led him to swim to the surface – there he found the missing team and the adult coach. Volanthen’s voice is heard on a widely broadcast video of the first contact with the soccer team, saying “How many of you?” When he learned that all the missing people were accounted for, he replied, “Brilliant.” He and Stanton did not have any food to offer the team when they encountered them, but they gave them a light. When they left the team, Volanthen promised them that he would come back, doing so by assisting in delivering food

John Volanten & Richard Stanton discussing rescue plan

Volanthen discounted the notion that encountering the team was due to luck, saying that he and Stanton systematically surfaced at every airspace in the flooded cave passages to shout and listen for a response, as well as to smell. He stated that they smelled the team before they saw them. Volanthen also assisted in rescuing members of the team, saying that the children were enclosed in bags with handles on the backs for the divers to hold onto, and clipped to the divers in case they lost their grip. Parts of the cave were so narrow that the children had to be pushed in front of the divers. At other times, the children were held close to the chest or out to the side. Volanthen said that the children were held as if carrying a “shopping bag.”

John Volanthem, cave diver & author of the book

In a BBC interview after the rescue, Volanthen was asked, “Can you see that what you did was fairly remarkable?” He responded, “I can see it was a first, how’s that?” Volanthen designs and constructs some of his own diving equipment, and has been called a “technical guru.” He designed a mapping device that collects information while diving. He also designs and modifies his own rebreathers to increase their compactness and efficiency.

Rescue team of cave divers

“I hope it will provide inspiration and hopefully useful information,” said the diver, who is from Bristol. John Volanten used the latest lockdown due to the COVID pandemic to write a book on the inside story of the rescue. “I hope it will provide inspiration and hopefully useful information,” said the diver, who is from Bristol. Director Ron Howard is currently filming in Australia, with Irish actor Colin Farrell playing John Volanthen. “I’m extremely proud that Ron Howard has picked up on the story and is shooting a movie,” Volanthen said. “I’m being played by Colin Farrell who I have to admit I had not heard of, but I’ve spoken to him since and I’m honored that he’s happy to play me.” To transform into his role, Colin Farrell got SCUBA re-certified, and shaved his signature widow’s peak. He also took up distance running and at the end of the shoot, completed the Brisbane Marathon. Also in the film are: Viggo Mortensen as Richard Stanton; Joel Edgerton as Dr. Richard Harris; Tom Bateman as Chris Jewel; Paul Gleeson as Mason Mallinson. Currently the film is in post-production and expected to be release April 15, 2022.

Dives entering the flooded Tham Luang cave

John Volanthen is a British cave diver who specialized in rescues through the Cave Rescue Organization, South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue, and the British Cave Rescue Council. In April 2018, he played a leading role in the Tham Luang cave rescue. He cave dives as a hobby and conducts rescues as a volunteer. Volanthen frequently cave dives and conducts rescues with a partner, Richard Stanton. He was part of a team that attempted a cave rescue of Eric Establie in 2010, in the Dragonnière Gaud Cave near Labastide-de-Virac in the Ardèche region of France, which was ultimately unsuccessful. In 2011, Volanthen assisted in the recovery of the body of Polish cave diver Artur Kozlowski from a cave in Kiltaran, Ireland. Norwegian authorities asked him to assist in recovering the bodies of two Finnish divers from Jordbrugrotta in 2014, but after diving down to the site he and his colleagues assessed the operation to be too risky. The bodies were subsequently recovered by Finnish and Norwegian divers. In his book, in Thirteen Lessons That Saved Thirteen Lives, Volanthen uses his prior cave diving experiences to explain decisions made in the Tham Luang rescue mission. His most important rule for thinking before acting is “Three seconds – three minutes – three hours,” to use in making a decision in an emergency.