Thailand cave rescue: Scarborough man's story about his part in the rescue mission

Mike Clayton and his partner Emma Porter
Mike Clayton and his partner Emma Porter

A Scarborough man has told of his part in the Thailand cave rescue, one year on from the dramatic event that captured the world’s attention.

Mike Clayton was part of the intricate rescue mission involving 12 young boys and their football coach in Luang Nang Non Cave.

British Cave Rescue Council with Theresa May

British Cave Rescue Council with Theresa May

They entered the cave system on June 23 last year and all were brought out in an operation that ended 18 days later.

The 51-year-old was chosen as part of a team of three surface support workers due to his expertise as a British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC) officer, a diver and someone who had caved in Thailand previously.

Mike, who was born and raised in Scarborough, describes the rescue, which gripped the world, as a “unique experience” with a “roller coaster of emotions”.

The equipment officer for the British Cave Rescue Council was involved from the very beginning when the news broke that the boys were trapped.

He said: “We heard about it on the Sunday as there were reports in the Thai press.”

He said two British cave divers who both lived in Thailand knew about the missing boys. One had been exploring the cave for years and he contacted the Thai authorities and requested to contact the British embassy, and asked to go on site.

Mr Clayton was then asked to fly out to Thailand when the two cave divers, who he described as “some of the very best in the world”, they realised they would need more help if a rescue were to take place.

“It was also very evident they needed more help because they were swamped with meetings and negotiations, so BCRC recognised this and sent out a dedicated three-person surface support team which I was included in,” he added.

His role was to support the diving team at the surface and help to source vital equipment needed for the rescue.

Mike’s partner Emma Porter, secretary of British Cave Rescue Council, also became a main point of contact within the UK and liaised with Thai authorities, American military and other organisations as part of the multi-agency rescue.

At first, the team had real doubts that “there was very little chance of finding them alive” but when the group were found they thought that “realistically we would be able to get half of them out alive,” Mike added.

He explained that this type of rescue had never been attempted before and was complex due a number of factors.

He said: “Firstly, the number of people trapped, secondly, people have dived out of caves before but normally they are adult cavers but these were 13 young boys and a man in his 20s, and thirdly, they were over 1.5km from the entrance of the cave and 1km of that was underwater.

“So this was a complex and narrow passage with zero visibility because of the water. The divers basically came out by touch and feel.”

Mike, who lives in Hampton Loade, Shropshire, and is chairman of Midlands Cave Rescue Organisation, praised the divers for their expertise.

“As cliche as it sounds it was a real roller coaster of emotions. While we were out there it was really stressful because it was done a lot on educated guess work because it had never been done before.

“It was stressful but the elation once everyone was out was amazing.”