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Body cam footage shows dramatic underwater rescue of elite cave diver

By Monica Bielanko, AccuWeather senior producer
April 19, 2019, 11:23:40 AM EDT

He's been called one of the world's best cave divers and played a role in saving the Thai soccer team that was trapped in a flooded cave last year, but on Tuesday, it was Josh Bratchley who needed rescuing. Bratchley, a member of the elite international diving team who helped rescue the soccer players, was in Tennessee with a group of fellow divers from the United Kingdom to explore the Mill Pond Cave.

According to The Washington Post, the divers had spent days exploring the cave and laying a new guideline -- a long rope that helps them find their way back out of the cave in low-visibility conditions. When his fellow divers surfaced around 3 p.m. Tuesday and realized Bratchley hadn't, they attempted another dive and spent hours trying to find him before calling for help.

The cave is about 400 feet long, front to back, with water about 40 feet deep. Water temperatures were reportedly an unforgiving 55 degrees. The cave is thick with silt and narrow due to tight turns and jagged edges. Conditions are so challenging that specialty diver Edd Sorenson was flown in from Florida to help. On Friday, dramatic body cam footage of the daring rescue emerged. The video first obtained by ABC News and captured by the camera worn by Sorenson shows just how murky the conditions were in the water Sorenson navigated before finding Bratchley.

He explained his thought process in a press conference streamed on the Jackson County Emergency Management Service Facebook page after the rescue.

"They were replacing line so when I got in just a short distance, maybe 150 feet, there was just line floating everywhere."

Josh Bratchley.

Word-renowned cave diver Josh Bratchley who was pivotal in pulling off last year's rescue of a youth soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand. (Facebook)

He said Bratchley likely tried to make some "self rescues" looking for the line but realized he wouldn't have enough air to make it out after multiple attempts so he decided to wait for help. The video shows the moment Sorenson from the water surfaces after 45 minutes of searching to find Bratchley covered in mud and waiting for help. It was a scene reminiscent from the Thai soccer rescue in which Bratchley had participated.

"Thank you for still being here and calm," Sorenson can be heard telling Bratchley when the two emerged outside the cave and the ordeal was over.

Sorenson, expecting the mission be a recovery, not rescue, was shocked when he surfaced in an air pocket and found Bratchley in less than an hour, more than 24 hours after he was last seen. He says Bratchley had found the large air pocket and was able to get himself out of the water, saving himself from drowning and hypothermia. He was sitting down, covered head to toe in mud and looked "like a snowman" if snowmen were made of mud, Sorenson said.

"I was amazed. I probably could have been to him sooner but I was looking for every nook and cranny for a body, so when I popped out of the surface, I was looking directly at him." Sorenson told reporters.

"He was calm as could be, he just said 'Thank you, thank you, thank you, who are you?' And I said 'I'm Edd Sorenson.' He said, 'I should have known when I saw the side-winder (a breathing apparatus that attaches to a diver's hip),' and he was very calm. I asked him how his health was, I asked him if he was hypothermic, how much gas did he have, we had a nice talk ... I gave him a play-by-play of what we were going to do."

Sorenson said Bratchley's calm demeanor allowed them to get out of the cave quickly and smoothly, telling reporters how important the rescue is to him and other divers.

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"By the time we're called, it's always a recovery ... So when you get to be a part of that, when you have to come up with body bags all the time, and you get to send one home, it's an exceptional feeling," he said. "His mental state was impeccable, he's a consummate professional so he did a great job aiding in his rescue and we were out quickly and smoothly."

When Bratchley finally emerged from the cave, cold and covered in mud after a terrifying ordeal that would leave most people hysterical, he said he was "fine." He let medical crews at the scene check him out -- there was even a flight crew on stand by -- and then Bratchley refused further treatment. In fact, he had just one request.

"His only request: he wanted some pizza," Derek Woolbright, from Jackson County Emergency Management, told reporters. According to ABC News, Bratchley has no plans to stop diving in the wake of the ordeal.

When Bratchley isn't saving lives in Thailand or exploring underwater caves all over the world, he's a meteorologist for the U.K.'s national weather service, Met Office. He is part of the U.K. Cave Diving Group, the oldest amateur diving club in the world and was honored as a member of the Order of the British Empire last year for his efforts in helping save the soccer team and their coach in Thailand.

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