The Thai cave rescue had everyone on the edge of their seats as what might have been the grimmest reality TV show ever was played out in the full spotlight of the world’s media. In Rick Stanton’s eagerly awaited autobiography, you can now read the inside story of the rescue and understand how Rick’s caving and cave diving adventures had been the build-up to his most difficult challenge yet.
Much like Ariadne’s thread, given to Theseus before he entered the labyrinth of the Minotaur, cave divers use a line to mark their way to the exit as they proceed through a cave. John indicated that his reel was very nearly empty, with about 20 metres left before he’d reach the end of the line. It was time to turn around.
As we were several hours into this journey, I’d started to feel a bit hungry. After a moment of rest, I remembered that I still had to lift my mask as I had done before, so I could smell for signs of life. Thinking about the Snickers bar I had tucked in my wetsuit pocket, I reached for my mask, lifting it away from my face and breaking the seal to expose my nose to the surrounding atmosphere.
In that moment, everything changed.
I was immediately struck by the pungent air, so thick it was suffocating as it entered my nostrils and mouth. The stench of decay was overpowering, unmistakable, and not unfamiliar. I’d smelled this before – in other caves and at other times – and my stomach churned as I recognized what it meant. They must be dead. We’ve found their bodies. This thought was followed almost immediately with a consolation. At least we’ve finally found something.
‘John, they’re here,’ I said to him. ‘Smell for yourself.’
I watched him as he lifted his mask, then he looked at me and nodded in agreement. We’d certainly found something. John and I were still looking at each other, our thoughts racing, when we received our next shock: voices. One teenaged male voice, and then another. Thoughts and questions raced between us silently. The boys! They’re alive!? How many?
I knew that we were considering the same possibilities, and my mind quickly settled on the option that seemed like the worst but most likely. We’d be finding some boys alive, with the others dead or dying. I realized with horror that we had been so focused on the search that the reality of finding them had never been fully thought through. Nobody had prepared for this. From this moment on, I knew that we would be flying blind.
Extracted from Aquanaut: A Life Beneath the Surface by Rick Stanton published on 10th June by Michael Joseph, £20.
Aquanaut can be pre-ordered from Wildplaces Publishing.