A FORMER diver, art forger and smuggler now living on the rural Cork-Tipperary border believes he can help rescue the 12 boys and their football coach trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand.
The story of the teenagers has gripped the world since they went missing after deciding to explore a cave complex on June 23.
Monsoon flooding rapidly made it impossible for them to escape and a massive rescue hunt was launched.
Hopes were fading before the rescuers eventually made contact with the group almost 10 days later and established that all 13 were still alive and, though weakened by the ordeal, largely healthy.
The group are trapped on a rock shelf about 4km (2.5 miles) from the mouth of the cave.
Swedish adventurer Martin Bengtsson, who is now in his late 80s, said he was shocked by reports that rescuers felt the best idea might be to wait for the rainy season to pass and then guide them to safety, something that could potentially mean them spending months in the cave.
Cave diving experts warn that the long route out would be highly dangerous for experienced divers, nevermind untrained teenagers.
“It is horrific, the idea of leaving them down there so long,” said Mr Bengtsson, who has lived in Skibbereen and now lives in an isolated area on the Cork-Tipperary border near Ballyporeen.
“I am an experienced diver and I am absolutely certain that it would be quite a straightforward matter to bring them out safely.”
His idea involves giving the boys some basic training in diving to ensure they do not panic and thrash around, placing them in body bags with their heads clear to give them access to breathing apparatus and then using qualified divers to guide them through the subterranean waters.
“I have already contacted the Thai embassy,” he told the Evening Echo this week.
“I am also trying to make contact with the marine department in UCC because I hope they might be able to speak to the right people.
“I have lived a very varied life. I have been in very tricky situations over the years — so I really do know what I am talking about.
“I am 87 now and beyond the actual diving myself but I have the knowledge to help these boys.”
The idea of an octogenarian helping solve a life-or-death situation across the world may seem far-fetched but it would be just the latest twist in Mr Bengtsson’s long and varied life story.
He will soon be publishing another memoir, to continue the story told in previous books Codename Rizla and If You’re not in Bed by 10 Come Home.
In these, he has revealed an astonishing life story from being a stuntman in Spaghetti Westerns to an art forger and at one stage a spy.
He describes at various times smuggling cigarettes for the Mafia, guns for African rebels and working as a bodyguard for a Saudi prince.
Now enjoying a much quieter life at his rural retreat, he is desperate to use his knowledge to help the trapped team and their coach.
“It has got to be done quickly, it horrifies me that they are talking about leaving them there so long,” he said.
The story in Thailand took a darker turn on Friday when a former Thai navy diver died while taking part in rescue efforts.
Petty Officer Saman Gunan had been delivering air tanks in the cave complex but lost consciousness on the way out.
It appears now that rescuers are thinking along the same lines as Mr Bengtsson.
There are concerns about falling oxygen levels in the chamber where the group are and rescuers are reportedly trying to pump water out of the caves to make it easier to get the boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach out before further rain makes the journey out even more dangerous than it currently is.