A British diver who helped save 12 schoolboys and their football coach from a flooded cave in Thailand says he and other rescuers “are not heroes”.
John Volanthen was the first voice the boys heard after nine days trapped in the underground network in Chiang Rai province.
This week, after an 18-day ordeal, they were all rescued from the cave complex.
Arriving at Heathrow Airport on Thursday, Mr Volanthen said it was a “relief” but played down his heroics.
Mr Volanthen, an IT consultant based in Bristol but who grew up in Brighton, was one of the first rescuers to discover the group huddled in the darkness of the Luang Nang Non Cave.
Arriving back in the UK, he said everybody had “pulled together” and was “very, very pleased it worked out quite so well”.
“We’re just very happy that the boys are out and safe,” he said.
“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.”
On social media, Mr Volanthen has been described as a “real hero” with many calling for him and fellow Briton Rick Stanton to be honoured.
But Mr Volanthen dismissed the idea, adding: “We are not heroes. What we do is very calculating, very calm. It’s quite the opposite,” he said.
“We take it one step at a time and hopefully, as we’ve managed to in this case, we come up with the results.”
Mr Volanthen also paid tribute to Thai navy diver Saman Kunan, who died while replenishing oxygen canisters, saying his death was an “absolute tragedy” and brought a “bittersweet” taste to an otherwise “excellent” operation.
The IT consultant, in his 40s, and Mr Stanton, a fireman from Coventry who is in his 50s, reached the group nine days after they went missing deep within the labyrinth.
The final four boys and their 25-year-old coach were brought to safety on Tuesday, having entered the network for exploration on June 23 before it became flooded by monsoon rains.
Their rescue was particularly treacherous because the boys, aged 11 to 16, had to swim through tight spaces despite having no previous diving experience.