Diver returns home to Essex after saving lives of 12 boys trapped in Thai cave
PUBLISHED: 15:08 15 August 2018 | UPDATED: 15:08 15 August 2018
A diver returning to his family home in Essex has spoken of his immense pride in helping to rescue 12 boys and their assistant football coach from a cave in Thailand.
Tim Acton, 39, from Wrabness runs a hotel complex in Bangkok where he lives with his wife and 10 year-old daughter Milly.
The Thai boys, who cannot swim, and their coach got stranded in the cave system after their expedition was hit by freak rainfall.
“It was being a father that made it stick out in my mind and made me decide to offer to help,” he explained.
Mr Acton contacted the Thai Navy Seals to offer his services, and joined them a week later, “as things were escalating.”
The day before Mr Acton joined the rescue team, Thai navy Seal Saman Kunan tragically suffocated to death as he made his way back to safety after delivering essential supplies to the boys, which brought home just how dangerous the mission was.
“It was quite a hard experience to join the team like that when they had just lost one of their members,” he said.
“They had all done basic training together, they had known each other for years and years and were like family to each other.”
Mr Acton was part of the support team tasked with bringing oxygen tanks in and out of the snaking system of caverns and crevices in Tham Luang, where the boys were trapped.
Famously, the American billionaire Elon Musk deployed experts from Tesla to help design a pod that could be used to transport the stranded boys and their coach. When the diving team rejected his design, Mr Musk described one of the British divers, Vernon Unsworth, as “pedo guy” on Twitter.
“My thoughts about Elon Musk went down the toilet that day!” Mr Acton admitted. “This diver is someone who has just given up his life to help these kids out, and there was no need for abuse like that.
“He was in the cave every day, he knew exactly what the conditions were like and what was needed.
Elon Musk took his mini-submarine to the rescue operation’s command cente, and Mr Acton was unimpressed. “It was just a tube, if you picture a large scuba tank to put a kid inside – but it wouldn’t work, the holes were too small. It would have put people’s lives in danger.”
”Mr Acton explained that although the team tried to stay positive, “There were moments when I wondered whether they would make it. It was a brilliant result and could have got a lot worse.”
For the last three days of the 18-day saga, Mr Acton helped to bring the boys out on stretchers.
“The youngest boy was wearing an oxygen mask and we could see a bit of his face, but all the others had full masks on and were heavily sedated so we never go to meet them.
“We were just concentrating all our efforts on getting them out as quickly as we could.”
There were tears of joy as the Thai boys were finally brought out to safety, but at the same time, the “media city” that had built up around the rescue effort was disbanded.
“There was a complete media blackout, which I think was for the best because stories were being made up,” Mr Acton explained.
Following the dramatic rescue, the diving team were branded as heroes.
Mr Acton was admitted to hospital with his knee “like a balloon” after aggravating an old skiing injury by carrying the heavy oxygen tanks, and says he was treated “like a king” by staff there.
“I felt a lot of gratitude from the Thai people,” he said.
But Mr Acton denies he should be depicted as a hero.
“I was just part of a team that supported the amazing advanced dive team. The way that everyone came together was wonderful to see – everyone just dropped everything to help out, from the ladies that were doing laundry to people bringing food.
“It was an honour to be part of the effort.”
Mr Acton is helping to raise funds to support the wife and family of Sgt Saman Gunan, the retired navy seal who died on the cave rescue mission, at https://www.gofundme.com/saman-guana-fund