Family of British diver in Thai cave rescue waiting to celebrate 'with car full of beer'

Hayley Dixon
Rescue personnel walk in a cave at the Tham Luang cave complex - REUTERS

The family of a British diver involved in the rescue of a Thai football team from a cave are waiting to celebrate his success with a "car full of beer".  

Seven British men have been among those leading the efforts to rescue 12 boys and their coach from flooded caves which has ended with all of the boys being brought out alive 17 days after they got trapped underground. 

Two of them, John Volanthen and Rick Stanton, were the first ones to find the boys three miles inside the Tham Luang cave complex. 

 Tim Acton, 39, was called in to help on the diving supply team after retired Thai Navy Seal Sgt. Major Saman Gunan, 38, lost his life during the rescue effort.

 Mr Acton's wife Took, 40, and daughter Millie, nine, have both been at a barracks about 15 km from the the scene and on Tuesday night were waiting with other families and a "car full of beer" for the men to return.  

Mr Acton's father John, who lives in Essex, said: "There has been a blackout so I haven't been able to speak to him but I have spoken to his wife.

"We know that he was in the caves yesterday and today, but we do not know anything else.

  "He is on the supply team. He was on standby and was called in after the Thai Navy Seal died, so it was a big worry. 

"Took said that they are just waiting for them all to come back to celebrate with a car full of beer. She hasn't seen much of him and I think she said that he has been doing four dives a day.  

"We are so proud of him, they should all be given a medal for what they have done."

Thai cave rescuer John Volanthen

His pride was echoed by Mr Volanthen's mother, Jill, who said that she does not know if she will get a chance to speak to her son until he returns home after he has been checked over by doctors in Thailand.  

"We are absolutely so proud, but my sympathy is with the wife and family of the diver who lost his life," she said from her home in Brighton.

"I would like to thank everybody for all their team work to get the lads out, it is absolutely lovely."

The British divers had originally been called in by Vernon Unsworth, who is from St Albans but now lives in Thailand and knows the cave well.  

Three British cave-divers, Richard William Stanton (2nd-L), Robert Harper (3rd-L) and John Volanthen (R) arriving to help with efforts  Credit: AFP

His mother Vera, 88, said: “He’s just sent messages saying the rain has been terrible.  She added: “I’m proud of him, but with the TT and climbing it is a surprise I wasn’t white when he was 20 odd.

“We keep telling him to do it as he is too old to do it, but he say ‘Mam I love it’.  

“’If I die down there I would have died happy’.”

It is understood the team, which also included Chris Jewell and Jason Mallison of the Cave Diving Group are now resting.  

Bill Whitehouse, Vice Chairman British Cave Rescue Council, said: "We have heard from them that they are all alright, but information is pretty sparse. 

"When we heard that all the boys and the last diver was out that was a brilliant moment.

"Right now they will be absolutely knackered and it will be a question of having something t eat and drink and then falling over. They will be pleased with themselves but relieved as well. It is difficult to know how it will hit them, there will be a number of different reactions."

Onlookers at the junction in front of Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital watch and cheer as ambulances transport the last rescued schoolboys and their coach  Credit:  Linh Pham/Getty

The "incredibly proud" mother of another "unsung hero" Jason Mallison  has described how her world class diver son helped to save the Thai children.

Jason Mallison, 50 - one of the world's best and most experienced cave divers - flew from Heathrow to Thailand on Wednesday (July 4) with supplies and to offer his service.

The brave diver, who previously rescued six British cavers from Mexico's Cueva de Alpazat cave system flew out with his friend Chris Jewell - both members of the renowned Cave Diving Group, Britain's oldest amateur association of subterranean divers. 

His beaming mother Anne, speaking at her home in Huddersfield, West Yorks., said the family could not be prouder of her son's unbelievable achievements.

She said: "We are so proud of Jason.

"It is so emotional for the family watching the news for updates and I am so glad it is now over.

"I have had sleepless nights, waking up early in the morning just to keep checking what is happening.

Anne said that Jason had little idea of the complex operation which needed to be carried out in Thailand and only came to terms with it when he got there.

"The little Thai boys were so slim, everyone who saw it on TV will understand.

"The operation escalated so quickly and I have been wracked with worry following the updates.

"Jason has only been able to make contact through WhatsApp with his partner.

People don't quite work out what it involves when you see it on the television. Some of the crevices are 15 inches wide, I have no idea how they do it.

Anne Mallison

"She told me today there was a message on Saturday which she didn't pass on to me, I think Jason was really worried with how dangerous the situation was.

"My stomach has been going and I have had so many sleepless nights, I am so glad it is over."

Jason started caving aged just 16, but Anne said he never showed any fear as a child - often to her worry.

She said: "Jason would climb up trees as a child and never had any fear growing up.

"Thinking back now I think it set him up for what he has become.

"People don't quite work out what it involves when you see it on the television.

"Some of the crevices are 15 inches wide, I have no idea how they do it.

"There is no backup plan when caving like there might be sea-diving, they are down there for hours on end."

In 2010, Jason - who offers his help voluntarily - broke the record for the longest ever cave dive with two other divers and Dutch explorer Rene Houben.

He spent 50 hours underground charting 5.5 miles of previously unexplored submerged caves in Mexico.

Anne said her son is very understated and has never wanted the media attention after his efforts.

She added: "I don't think there will be a huge celebration when he comes home this time, it just isn't what he is like.

"We will all get back to reality or he will just fly off to the next dive.

"He never wants to be in the limelight.

"That is exactly how he is, he has never wanted praise, he just sees it as something he has to do.

"The fact there were children involved made this one extra special for him and I can't put into words my pride."

A group of Thai Navy divers in Tham Luang cave during rescue operations Credit: AFP

Rob Harper, 65, from Wells, Somerset, was one of the first three Britons to arrive in Thailand, but returned home last week.

The experienced caver has decades of experience exploring and surveying caves from Panama to Peru, and he is understood to have specific knowledge of the cave complex in which the Thai boys were trapped and helped with logistics on the ground.

When Harper arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport to return home, he is said to have received a VIP welcome and escort and was presented with a Certification of Appreciation by Minister for Tourism and Sports, Weerasak Kowsurat.

A family friend said that shortly after arriving back in the UK, he and his wife Rosalind had gone away camping. “He just needed to get away,” she said.