Lead diver in 2018 Thailand Cave Rescue reflects on hard-won lessons

Lead diver in 2018 Thailand Cave Rescue reflects on hard-won lessons

  • The diver who helped lead the cave rescue in Thailand in 2018 spoke to Insider about life since the rescue.
  • John Volanthen has just launched an online leadership course and is also the subject of Ron Howard’s new film, “Thirteen Lives”.
  • Volanthen reflected on hard-won lessons and discussed details of his most famous dive.

It’s been a busy summer for John Volanthen.

The British cave diver who led the rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave in July 2018 marked the fourth anniversary of that triumphant recovery last month.

Volanthen then had the unique experience of seeing himself complete that mission again, this time on the big screen, portrayed by Hollywood actor Colin Farrell in Ron Howard’s “Thirteen Lives,” a dramatic yet accurate portrayal, according to Volanthen, of the daredevil rescue mission that ultimately saved the lives of every person trapped in the cave.

To top it all off, this week Volanthen debuted a free online course he created in collaboration with EdApp of Safety Culture, a mobile training platform. The Leading Under Pressure course brings together the most valuable lessons Volanthen has learned in his years of high-pressure underwater cave diving and aims to make them accessible and applicable to a wider audience.

In an interview with Insider this week, Volanthen reflected on the hard-won lessons he’s learned and discussed some of the details of his most famous dive.

Shares his wisdom

In the wake of the Tham Luang cave rescue, Volanthen said he began to reflect on the knowledge he had acquired through years of high-stakes cave diving and realized those lessons could easily be applied to other workplaces, as well as people’s daily lives.

The online course aims to help users build their leadership skills with lessons covering risk versus reward, high-pressure situations and the importance of teamwork – all through the lens of Volanthen’s unique perspective and guided by his vivid images and teachings.

Throughout the course, Volanthen introduces and expands on his self-created concepts, such as “the still voice” – an internal guide similar to gut instinct that can prove useful in stressful situations; and the “library of plans”—a cache of past experiences that can be relied upon in tense moments.

“Hopefully it will give some people some inspiration, or maybe just give them an insight into partially what they’re capable of,” Volanthen said.

Director Ron Howard stands with several divers, including John Volanthen wood

Director Ron Howard, center, poses with divers Chris Jewell, from left, Connor Roe, Josh Bratchley, Rick Stanton and John Volanthen as they arrive at the screening of the film ‘Thirteen Lives’ in London, Monday, July 18, 2022.

Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP


Seeing himself on the screen

Volanthen last month also debuted in cinemas, albeit played by someone else.

Due to COVID restrictions during the production of “Thirteen Lives,” Volanthen said he was unable to travel to Australia where the production was filmed. However, as one of the main subjects of the film, he was still able to influence the final product.

Volanthen told Insider that he spent a good deal of time working with both the scriptwriters and the sound department, to what he believes were effective results.

“The underwater storytelling is absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “There is certainly a sense of drama underwater, which is not easy to achieve.”

But the most bizarre aspect of the film experience, he said, was undoubtedly seeing an actor embody him on screen. Volanthen and Farrell met over Zoom several times, with the former attempting to teach the latter how to become him.

“It’s pretty weird trying to teach someone to be you,” Volanthen said. “It’s not something I ever expected to have to do, but what I found after watching the film is that a lot of the mannerisms he’s picked up are not ones I maybe expected or tried to teach him.”

Volanthen credited Farrell for being very thorough and joked that people in his personal life have told him that the actor “makes me better than I do.”

The film will be available on Amazon Prime streaming starting Friday.

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