A Thai navy diver working as part of the effort to rescue a dozen boys and their football coach trapped in a flooded cave has died from a lack of oxygen.
Saman Kunan, a former Thai SEAL, was working in a volunteer capacity and died during an overnight mission in which he was placing oxygen canisters.
Thai SEAL commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew said while underwater, the rescuer passed out and efforts to resuscitate the 38-year-old failed.
‘Despite this, we will continue until we accomplish our mission,’ Mr Arpakorn said. Mr Kunan was trying to reach a cavern set up as a command centre 1.2miles inside the cave system when he ran out of air at 2am local time.
He was returning to the centre after placing oxygen tanks through the cave’s underground network. A diving partner tried to revive him but was unsuccessful.
His body has been sent to Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok and will be flown to his hometown in Roi Et for a royally-sponsored funeral, the Thai king announced.
Mr Kunan’s final Facebook post was a picture of him proudly posing with his comrades at the mouth of the Than Luang cave.
He had vowed to ‘bring the kids home’ as he took leave from his job as an airport security guard to join the rescue operation.
His death highlights the dangers of the rescue operation, especially the plan to try to teach the inexperienced youngsters how to dive.
The initial elation at finding them alive on 2 July is now fading and being replaced with worry about whether they can survive the mission and swim through the narrow channels, with limited visibility.
Bill Whitehouse, vice chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC) said the death of Mr Kunan, was ‘awful news’.
‘It illustrates the dangers in the operation that is being undertaken, it isn’t a walk in the park,’ Mr Whitehouse said.