In October 2020, Rick Stanton managed his wetsuit, diving harness, cylinders and regulators. He was preparing to jump into the underwater recording phase at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire: a six-meter-deep tank, surrounded by dark walls prepared with an artificial cave passage.
Stanton, along with six other British divers, recreated the extraordinary Tham Luang cave rescue mission in which he participated, an operation that caught the world’s attention in 2018 and which saved 12 teenage football players and their assistant coach who had been trapped in northern Thailand’s cave.
The result is The rescue, a documentary that was released in the US on October 8 and opens in the UK on October 29. It promises to retell the story of the rescue in nail-biting details. “We’re saying we in Thailand may have made it look a little too easy,” Stanton said. “Every day we went in and picked up the boys. But no one knew what was really happening, so we wanted to tell our story. ”
Stanton, along with British cave diver John Volanthen, discovered the group alive – a dramatic moment captured in the film. They shine a torchlight on the boys sitting in shorts and T-shirts together on a ledge. They ask how many are still alive, and count the numbers in front; “Yes, 13,” a voice calls back in English.
The mission, which meant navigating through turbid water with almost zero visibility, twisting and turning to squeeze through extremely narrow passages and navigating evil currents, was anything but simple.
Two rescuers died while trying to rescue the group. Saman Gunan, a former Thai naval sealer who supplied air tanks to the stranded group, ran out of air during his return. Beirut Pakbara, a Thai seal, later died after contracting a blood infection during the operation.
The rescue, made by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin with national geography, draws on 87 hours of previously unseen footage, shared by the Thai Navy seal, as well as interviews and re-enactments.
What emerges from the film, Stanton said, is that it was an incredible situation – and an incredible plan to get the boys out. “Years later, you just think it was really crazy – the whole thing,” he said.
The film depicts what the touch-and-go rescue was like. In one scene, a diver who brings a child out loses his diving rope and then begins to swim in the wrong direction. Another accidentally stabs himself with a ketamine syringe while underwater. “Fortunately, it was not connected,” Stanton said. The children were anesthetized to prevent them from panicking as they were carried underwater.
Central to the film are Stanton and the other divers, whose unique skills, developed from decades exploring caves as a hobby, enabled them to pull off an almost impossible feat.
Filming the underwater scenes was pretty simple, Stanton said. “We said we would not act … it would look wooden.” Instead, they showed up with the equipment they used in Thailand and did exactly what they had done in 2018.
“If they were trying to say, can you do that? We said, ‘no, we did not in Thailand’. ”
In-depth interviews that touch on divers’ lives and backgrounds were a little less enjoyable, admits Stanton, a former firefighter who worked in the West Midlands. He prefers to focus on nuts and bolts in the operation.
The media frenzy at the time, which led to extensive coverage of the rescue worldwide, was chaotic, he said. To cope with the pressure, he simply ignored it. “We knew everyone in the world was looking at it … but we just blinked at it,” he said.
“What we did not engage in, and that’s probably a good thing, is how emotionally involved everyone was in the boys’ situation.” It did not register until they returned home.
There were, he added, lots of misunderstandings in the media coverage of the operation.
Stanton, who has written a book, Aquanaut: A life below the surface, whether the operation is satisfied The rescue sets the record straight. “We are careful people,” he said.
Although he does not keep in touch with the boys, he occasionally receives photographs of them.