Thai cave rescue hero returns to Portsmouth to tell his story

A FORMER University of Portsmouth student is returning to the city to speak about his heroic role in rescuing 12 boys and their coach from a flooded cave system in Thailand.

By Neil Fatkin
Thursday, 7th March 2019, 4:37 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th March 2019, 5:40 pm
Jason Mallinson during the mission to rescue 12 boys and their coach trapped in a cave system in Thailand.

Cave diver Jason Mallinson, 50, will be speaking about his role as one of three divers who led the boys to safety in July last year.

Born and bred in Huddersfield, Jason started caving with friends in the Yorkshire Dales before broadening his experience as part of the university’s caving club.

‘I studied mechanical engineering at Portsmouth between 1986 and 1990. I really developed as a caver after joining the caving club. We would regularly go to South Wales and the Mendip Hills,’ said Jason.

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Rescuers hold an evacuated boy inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, in northern Thailand on July 11 last year Picture: Thai NavySEAL Facebook Page via AP

He also branched out to cave diving.

‘I would often head up to the Mendips on my own and look to explore the underwater cave systems,’ added Jason.

Already aware of the boys’ plight from television news, Jason first became alerted to a potential role in a rescue mission after call from a British citizen living in Thailand who had alerted authorities to a possible rescue team.

‘As a member of the British Cave Rescue Council we are always on potential call to offer support,' he said. ‘My colleagues, Rick Stanton and John Volanthen flew out first. They discovered the boys after they had been trapped for nine days. I joined them a couple of days later to help with the rescue mission.’

The cave rescue Picture: Thai NavySEAL Facebook Page via AP

The boys entered the cave in dry conditions but were trapped after a deluge of rain flooded the system.

‘We knew they were there because their bikes were parked outside. It was close to the start of the monsoon season and so whilst it was dry when they entered, the caves soon became flooded once it started raining,’ said Jason.

Without food and having to drink potentially contaminated groundwater, the first task was to get life-preserving essentials to the boys.

With time running out and one diver having already lost his life, it was left to Jason, Rick and John to try and rescue the boys.

‘We decided to go in with dive equipment and try to “dive the boys out”. It was an incredibly risky procedure. None of the boys had dived before, the visibility was terrible and there was real chance they could panic. When we started the mission there were serious doubts we could get them all out,’ said Jason.

With six fully submerged passages, some of which were so narrow it required the removal of cylinders, and 2km to negotiate, points were identified to store oxygen tanks. 

Jason said: ‘It was my job to rescue one boy each day. We provided each boy with diving equipment, attached them to ourselves and dragged them through the passages. Each diver would go through multiple tanks and the time taken for each rescue was around two and a half hours.’

After three painstaking days the British team rescued all 12 boys and their coach.

‘All the boys’ parents were there and it was an amazing feeling to get them out. Due to the dangers involved we never thought we would get a 100 per cent success rate. I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved as a team,’ said Jason.

Jason was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal in the New Year Honours List as well as a Pride of Britain Award.

He is speaking at a university event at the Kings Theatre on Wednesday at 6.30pm.

‘I enjoyed my time in Portsmouth so much that I stayed on for an additional year. I am really looking forward to coming back to the city to tell my story and to see how much it has changed,’ said Jason.