British caver is hailed a ‘magician’ after convincing Thai officials to bring in heroic UK divers who found stranded schoolboys, aided by his knowledge of the tunnels
- Vernon Unsworth used his expert knowledge to guide the two British underwater cave experts to the missing schoolboys
- Thai Navy Seals had swum 3 miles into the cave with no luck in finding the boys
- Expert divers will teach the schoolboys how to dive and attempt their swim to freedom
- The boys can only escape from the cave after a doctor has declared that they are fit to swim after starving for ten days
A British caver has been hailed ‘a magician’ after he used his unique knowledge of Thailand‘s underground tunnels to lead rescuers to the 12 stranded school boys.
Vernon Unsworth, from St Albans, Herts, convinced Thai officials to bring in heroic UK divers who found stranded schoolboys, a friend has revealed.
Mr Unsworth, who lives close to the Tham Luang Nang Non cave, reached the cave the day after the group of boys and their football coach went missing.
He called on the two British divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, who were the first to reach the trapped boys alive on Monday.
Close friend Chaiyon Srisamut told MailOnline: ‘Vern found out that the boys were stuck in the cave the next day.
The missing Thai schoolboys and their football coach were in high spirits after being discovered by the two British divers
Vernon Unsworth (pictured, above) managed to convince Thai officials to allow the British underwater cave experts to enter the natural chimney and reach the schoolboys
‘He knew that the water was the problem so he told the rescuers where to put sand bags to stop it reaching the cave. But this did not work.’
The Thai authorities took over and only turned back to Mr Unsworth when their efforts to extricate the youngsters failed.
‘The Thai Navy Seals went into the cave but they could not see anything because the water is so muddy so they came back.
‘Vern told me he knew some English guys who could definitely help. They are his friends and they had been here at the cave a couple of weeks before.
‘The funny thing is that at first the authorities didn’t want to pay attention to him. They didn’t trust him and the governor did not want foreigners to be out at risk.
‘But Vern convinced them and now they consider him as some kind of magician.’
The British potholers Mr Stanton and Mr Volanthen were confident that the footballers would be at the Pattaya Beach section of the cave due to Mr Unswoerth’s intimate knowledge of the 8km tunnel network.
Thai Navy Seals with diving gear had swum some five kilometers (3 miles) into the cave with no luck in reaching the boys
Expert divers will teach the schoolboys how to dive and attempt their escape out of the cave once they are strong enough after starving for ten days
Mr Srisamu said: ‘He used his knowledge of the cave to calculate where the group was mostly likely to be. And he was right.’
Rescuers face a race against time to get the boys out of the caves where they have been trapped for 11 days.
They are hoping to begin teaching the boys to swim as they attempt to free them from the flooded cave before the rainy season begins, which will push the water levels inside the tunnels up higher.
But they will have to wait until the trapped Thai boys have eaten solid food and gained weight before a perilous swim to freedom can be attempted.
Thai authorities have warned that the scuba dive cannot be made until a doctor rules that the children have recovered, after starving for ten days.
Only then will rescuers teach the group how to dive in their cave with the hope that they can manage the three-hour journey back to the outside world. The boys and their coach are being tended to around the clock by a team of Thai navy divers and a doctor.
Soldiers, rescuers and doctors are on standby to rescue the schoolboys and their football coach
Rescuers have been reluctant to be drawn on when the evacuation might be attempted from the Tham Luang caves in Chiang Rai. However, one senior official connected with the operation told The Times that he hoped it would begin imminently. The boys — aged from 11 to 16 — would be accompanied by professional divers.
Edd Sorenson, of International Cave Rescue and Recovery, warned that swimming out of the cave would be “extremely dangerous” and that the boys might panic. “As long as they know that we know where they are, they have food, a way to keep warm, water or filtration systems and light, it would be safest to wait it out,’ he told the BBC.
An American expat and diving instructor working with the navy rescuers said that helicopters were exploring the outside of the cave for areas where rescuers might be able to drill through rock and lift the boys out.
Thai Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda has said the boys’ only chance is to swim out through the flooded underground network and that swimming lessons will start on Wednesday or Thursday. He said on Wednesday: ‘There are no other options besides getting them out through the flooded passages.’
Mr Unsworth, a British cave explorer based in Chiang Ra who was called in to help the rescue efforts, has said the next 24 hours is make or break for the boys.