New Year Honours 2019: Divers honoured for Thai cave rescue

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Image source, Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Image caption, Richard Stanton (left) and John Volanthen (right) were both awarded the George Medal

A team of British divers have been decorated for their role in rescuing a boys' football team from a Thai cave.

Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, who were the first divers to reach the children, have been awarded the George Medal, the second highest civilian gallantry award.

Three divers were made MBEs and two others receive the Queen's Gallantry Medal.

The dramatic rescue operation gripped the world's attention in the summer.

Divers Joshua Bratchley, Lance Corporal Connor Roe and Vernon Unsworth, were appointed MBEs for their role in the rescue, while Christopher Jewell and Jason Mallinson have been given the Queen's Gallantry Medal for exemplary acts of bravery.

Image source, Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Image caption, Joshua Bratchley, Jason Mallinson and Chris Jewell were among those honoured for their role in the rescue

Mr Volanthen told BBC News that while his award was much appreciated, from his perspective as a parent, the most important thing was that the boys were rescued.

"I don't think anyone could ask for any greater honour than being able to be a part of the team that returned the Wild Boars [football team] to their families," he said.

Media caption, The moment divers discover the missing boys

Reacting to the announcement, Mr Unsworth, originally from St Albans but now living in Thailand, said the operation was "a team effort" and he was "honoured to have been recognised".

"For me, after saving the boys, this is the icing on the cake," he said.

Mr Jewell, from Cheddar, Somerset, who is a diving officer of the British Cave Rescue Council, praised the "amazing support" which made the rescue possible.

"Behind every one of the cave divers being honoured is a supporting cast of family, friends, rescue volunteers and employers," the 36-year-old said.

Image source, PA Wire/Steve Parsons
Image caption, Vern Unsworth (left) and L/Cpl Roe were both appointed MBE

Mr Bratchley, 27, who is a Met Office meteorologist based at RAF Valley in Anglesey, Wales, used to work for Devon Cave Rescue Organisation.

He said to receive such recognition was "incredible".

Elite divers Mr Stanton, a firefighter in his 50s from Coventry, and Mr Volanthen, an IT consultant in his 40s based in Bristol, are members of the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue team.

Both had experience of previous cave rescues, with Mr Stanton involved in the rescue of trapped British soldiers from a cave in Mexico in 2004.

Image source, Linh Pham/Getty Images
Image caption, Richard Stanton is an elite diver and firefighter from Coventry

L/Cpl Roe, from Scotland, who is in the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers, attached to 21 Signal Regiment, has been caving for more than eight years and cave diving since 2012.

Mr Mallinson, 50 from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, dived with Mr Jewell in 2013 to explore the Sistema Huautla in Mexico - the deepest cave in the western hemisphere.

Image source, Linh Pham/Getty Images
Image caption, John Volanthen is a member of the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue team.

The British divers answered a call by Thai authorities to join the search for 12 boys aged 11 to 16 and their football coach, who had disappeared in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system in Chiang Rai province on 23 June.

The boys, who were members of the local Wild Boars youth football team, became trapped after heavy rains caused flooding.

The first rescuers reached the group on 3 July but then faced the dangerous task of getting the whole team out safely, with the forecast of heavy rains and the risk of water levels rising.

The dangers of the three-day operation were highlighted when a former Thai navy diver died from a lack of oxygen during the mission.

The final members of the group emerged on 10 July, prompting celebrations across Thailand and further afield.

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