Swapping muddy clothes and confined spaces for fancy suits and the bright lights of London, Josh Bratchley from Gunnislake graced the stage of the Pride of Britain Awards last week (which aired on television last night) to be showered with appreciation for his part in the rescue of the 12 young boys from a flooded cave in Thailand back in July.
Josh, who grew up in Gunnislake and attended Callington Community College, was one of the 13 cave divers called upon to help rescue the young Thai football team who became trapped in the Tham Luang cave earlier this year, after a storm caused the passageways of the cave to flood while they were exploring. The boys spent nine days trapped in the cave before being discovered and weren’t rescued until a week later after various options were considered as to the best way to get them out.
Josh, who now lives on the Isle of Anglesey, said he was climbing back down a mountain in Italy when he got the call for help from the British Cave Rescue Council and was expected to fly from Heathrow to Bangkok the following day.
‘While mountaineering I only had intermittent internet and had been following the news of the incident when I could,’ he said. ‘One morning I had heard that one of the rescue divers had died — I had two friends out there at the time and luckily I found out it was not them but it was still very tragic.
‘I was on my way back down the mountain when I had a message and a few missed calls. When I called back they told me to be on a flight the next day. I ran down the mountain, drove straight to the nearest airport and got on the first flight back to the UK.
‘The South East Cave Rescue team drove me all the way from London back to my house in Anglesey, where I gathered all the dive kit I’d need and the North Wales Cave Rescue team drove me all the way back to Heathrow.’
While at the airport, the South and Mid Wales Rescue team had a police escort for all the diving equipment needed to get to the airport before his flight.
Josh flew out with two other cave divers and when they arrived they were given a briefing on the situation. He said from the moment of arriving it was ‘pretty much non-stop’ until all the boys were rescued.
‘They had made a plan and everyone had certain roles. Some were to carry kit, some to do the cylinder changes, carry the kids through the dry sections of cave and some to get them through the water-filled canal sections. Everyone had their role. This kind of rescue had never been done before — not even any part of it.
‘The back of the cave where the kids were was 1.5km away from the entrance and at least 1km of it was underwater. Visibility was zero — you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face. We worked solidly through the day and then rested at night — it was a hard decision to make to leave some of the kids in there overnight but we didn’t have any other option.’
One of the options considered before the rescue was to get food supplies to the boys and let them stay put until the rainy season was over but Josh pointed out that it was now November and the cave was apparently still completely underwater so the boys ‘certainly wouldn’t have made it’.
‘I don’t feel “special” to have been involved, it was nice to have been able to save their lives. We’re used to diving in those horrible conditions but to be responsible for other people’s lives was terrifying. We had to distance ourselves from emotion while doing it. If emotion is involved, you can’t do the job properly. It was great at the end when we were told all the kids were out, we smiled, said it was great and then went and had a few beers.’
Josh and the rescue team won an Outstanding Bravery Award for the rescue at the glitzy Pride of Britain Awards held last week.
‘We won as a team but were given individual awards. It was very much appreciated by all of us. It was a very surreal event, very shiny, lots of people dressed up — we’re used to being covered in mud most of the time!
‘We felt we weren’t so deserving of the award as others, we were just adults who had the appropriate skills needed. There were so many inspirational people there, especially some of the kids and people who raised lots of money for charity. It was nice to meet the other winners and to see the boys again.’
Josh and his fellow divers were also invited to Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister and appeared on ITV’s This Morning with the boys while in London.
Josh started caving at university in Plymouth and ran trips in Somerset, Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District.
He joined the Cave Diving Group of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and has had years of varied experience.
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