A British cave diver who was part of the dramatic rescue of a Thai youth soccer team last year was himself rescued from a pitch-black underwater cave in northern Tennessee on Wednesday night, authorities said.
Josh Bratchley was retrieved from the Mill Pond Cave system near Gainesboro in Jackson County, about 65 miles northeast of Nashville, by Edd Sorenson, a veteran technical cave diver from Marianna, Florida, who is internationally known for many high-profile cave rescues.
Bratchley — who was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in December for his role in the Thai rescue last summer — was in good shape and refused medical treatment, the Jackson County Sheriff's Office said.
While Bratchley and his colleagues were conducting the rescue in Thailand last year, Sorenson walked NBC News through the obstacles they would have been facing. On Wednesday, Sorenson was able to rescue Bratchley.
Sorenson said at a news conference Wednesday night that he went into the cave system expecting the worst because of the cold underwater temperatures and the complete lack of visibility.
"Most of the time on rescues, when I get there, they're hysterical, they're panicked, and that makes it very dangerous for me," Sorenson said. But he called Bratchley "a consummate professional."
"Putting people in body bags all the time is no fun, and when you get to send one home, it's an exceptional feeling," he said.
Ethan Burris, a spokesman for the Jackson County Emergency Management Agency, said Bratchley was with a small team of British divers who have been exploring the cave system for two or three days. The group called 911 shortly after midnight Tuesday when members noticed that Bratchley was unaccounted for after their last dive Tuesday afternoon, he said.
Burris said the group's members waited to call 911 because they were unsuccessfully searching for their colleague themselves.
Lt. Brian Krebs, a cave rescue specialist for the Chattanooga Hamilton County Rescue Service — members of which were flown in by the state Highway Patrol to help in the rescue — agreed that Bratchley was largely responsible for saving his own life, saying that because he'd been in the cave the day before, he knew where crucial air pockets were.
"Luckily, Josh was found right where we'd thought he'd be," Krebs said.
Because of Bratchley's expertise, Krebs said, what had been feared to be a recovery mission of as long as two hours turned out to be a safe rescue that took only 45 minutes.
"He did not panic. Most of everything he did today was in his head, and he controlled that very, very well," Krebs said.
Derek Woolbright, a spokesman for the Jackson County Emergency Management Agency, said Bratchley had only one request when he emerged from the water Wednesday night: "He wanted some pizza."