In July 2018, twelve boys and their soccer coach disappeared into the Tham Luang Cave in Thailand. Trapped miles beneath the surface, not even the Thai Navy SEALs had the skills to bring them to safety. With the floodwater rising rapidly, time was running out. Any hope of survival rested on Rick Stanton, a retired British firefighter with a living room full of homemade cave-diving equipment. As unlikely as it seemed, Rick and his partner, John Volanthen, were regarded as the A-team for exactly this kind of mission.
If you’re ever trapped in a flooded cave, pray that Mr. Stanton attempts the rescue. Aquanaut: A Life Beneath the Surface is Mr. Stanton’s account of his evolution into one of the best cave divers in the world ... Aquanaut has its shortcomings and peculiarities. The writing can be labored: Some of the cave scenes are tenebrous for the wrong reasons. The patchy prose isn’t surprising, since neither Mr. Stanton nor his co-writer, Karen Dealy, have much writing experience. And you won’t be buzzed by the book’s suspense because there isn’t much ... The book reflects Mr. Stanton’s mindset—suspense is his enemy. He has always tried to eliminate it from his cave incursions, and I suspect the same code underpins this book ... There are also some odd omissions ... Despite my misgivings, both the story and the star of Aquanaut are so remarkable that its flaws seem unimportant. The book is, finally, the chronicle of a man from a humble background who worked devilishly hard to become accomplished in his beloved avocation, succeeded, and was willing to go anywhere to help people in the most dire cave disasters. Mr. Stanton shuns the 'hero' label for his Thai cave triumph, but your (claustrophobic) reviewer deems it appropriate.
Stanton recounts his past experiences exploring the claustrophobic darkness of caves in tales of ingenuity and plenty of details about his constructing the specialized equipment needed to survive such an unforgiving environment. Interspersed with these accounts is the dramatic saga, which captured the world’s avid attention, of finding the trapped and imperiled boys and how team members shared their problem-solving skills to plan and execute the improbable and heroic rescue. This is a unique and heart-pounding story of courage and survival. Whether readers followed the news coverage of Tham Luang closely or not, they will benefit from reading Stanton’s chronicle, which pairs well with the new documentary film, The Rescue.
The tale of the author’s exploits is undeniably exciting, but the text, co-written by Dealy, is weighed down by pedestrian details that slow the narrative pace. This problem is further exacerbated by the way he braids chapters pertaining to the rescue with those pertaining to highlights from his long career in cave diving. The result is an excessively detailed book most likely to appeal only to those who share Stanton’s subterranean passions ... A fun adventure story marred by flawed storytelling.