The British divers who took part in the rescue of 12 Thai boys and their football coach, who were trapped in a flooded cave, left an emotional message for the children as the flew back to the UK
Jason Mallinson, from Huddersfield, said: ‘We’re very glad we could get you out alive,’ before adding to the rescued boys to ‘be careful in the future’.
Mr Mallinson, 50, and fellow diver John Volanthen, 47, played down their heroic efforts as they landed in the UK this morning, with he latter saying: ‘We are not heroes, quite the opposite.’
Upon arrival at Heathrow, Mr Volanthen was hugged and presented with chocolates by an unknown Thai woman showing her gratitude for their selfless efforts.
Mr Volanthen spoke of the ‘relief’ he felt at seeing the boys rescued after an 18-day ordeal in the Luang Nang Non Cave and was modest about his extraordinary feat.
‘We were very pleased and we were very relieved that they were all alive but I think at that point we realised the enormity of the situation and that’s perhaps why it took a while to get them all out,’ he told Sky News.
He added: ‘We are not heroes. What we do is very calculating, very calm. It’s quite the opposite.’
The pair had been greeted by cheering crowds as they arrived at a Bangkok airport ahead of their flight back to the UK last night.
A contingency of government ministers were also in attendance to gift them certificates and medals – promising them free travel to Thailand for life.
Video shows the exhausted pair trudging through the airport in their shorts, t-shirt and backpacks before meeting Thailand’s ministers for Tourism and Travel.
Upon awarding them medals and certificates from the Prime Minister, Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith added: ‘Consider it free tickets to Thailand, any time’.
‘This is to show our appreciation, our Prime Minister asked for you to be given this,’ Tourism Minister Wirasak Kowsoorad told them.
‘Thank you so much for your effort. It was a great rescue and we very appreciate it.
‘Now, both of you, you will always be welcome, any time, you have so many friends here.’
Mr Mallinson and Mr Volanthen opted to fly back to Britain last night even though they could have lapped up admiration from millions of Thais who threw wild street parties all over the country in their honour.
Speaking yesterday, the daring divers rejected suggestions that they are heroes who should be knighted.
‘It’s not like that – if you could do the same for someone else’s child, you would,’ said Mr Volanthen, an IT consultant from Bristol.
‘The result is the important thing. The kids came out, the coach is good, the [Thai navy] Seals are good – job done.
‘So we’re pleased with that.’
Told he was a national hero, Mr Volanthen protested: ‘It’s not like that. If you could do the same for someone else’s child, you would.
‘I can’t explain why, but it’s not like that. It’s just…it worked.’
This incredible ‘it’ involved discovering the lost children, whom not even special forces could find, and then leading their stunning rescue from a hideous dungeon-like cavern three miles inside a mountain.
Mr Mallinson insisted: ‘We’re not heroes.
‘It was a difficult mission but we succeeded and the results speak for themselves. I feel good – now it’s over. It will be good to get home.’
Now there are calls for the brave British potholers – nine in total – to be honoured at Buckingham Palace.
Writing on Twitter, former Conservative Party treasurer Lord Ashcroft suggested Mr Stanton and Mr Volanthen could be awarded the George Cross or the George Medal for their gallantry.
Others called for the pair to be given knighthoods, while Oscar-winning US actress Marlee Matlin tweeted: ‘Oceans of gratitude to the British Thai cave divers.’