A former Thai navy diver lost his life while taking part in the rescue operation of young soccer team and their coach who have been stranded inside the cave for the past two weeks.
Former Sgt. Samarn Kunan, an ex-SEAL, volunteered to do one of the most challenging tasks of the already treacherous mission–maintain air supplies inside the cave, as rescuers are now faced with the possibility of the boys remaining underground throughout the monsoon season that ends in October.
According to government officials, Kunan died due to lack of air while attempting to return to the underground command center located two kilometers (1.2 miles) inside the cave where the 12 boys are stuck.
The former seal, who was in his mid-30s, died at 2:00 a.m. Friday local time when he ran out of air after delivering oxygen tanks to the cavern.
"His job was to deliver oxygen. He did not have enough on his way back," said an official.
When he became unconscious while making the return journey, his diving buddy brought him out. But, unfortunately, he failed to revive him.
“These accidents can happen sometimes to anyone in the field, but we will go ahead and keep working,” said Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yookongkaew, the Thai navy SEAL commander. “Our morale is still strong.”
Kunan’s body was expected to be transported by a military aircraft from Chiang Rai to Satthahip Navy Base, where he will receive a royal-sponsored funeral. He will then reportedly be shifted to his home town in the province of Roi Et, northern Thailand.
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, went missing with their 25-year-old assistant coach on June 23 after they set out to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai.
A massive rescue team including dozens of Thai Navy SEALs and international experts battled through thick mud and high water to try to reach the group.
The boys and their coach were only found alive deep inside the cave by two British cave divers earlier this week. However, the fact the team was stuck above the flood waters for nine days without food and fresh water had put them in a weakened physical state.
Since then rescuers have been trying to figure out ways to clear a constricted passageway for divers deep inside the flooded cave complex, and fitting the survivors with full-face oxygen masks so they can cover the long, dangerous swim to safety.
However, the death of an experienced diver underscored the inherent dangers involved in attempting to move the boys, who are already in a frail condition.
“It’s different,” said the Thai navy commander. “The Seals are the workers, they work to rescue, it’s a different standard to the kids. The boys are like the egg in the stone.”
However, Cade Courtley, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, wasn’t too sure about the current strategy to get the boys out from the flooded tunnels of the cave.
He said even divers with considerable expertise have been "climbing up, climbing through, going (through water with) zero visibility to finally get through the team. Now you're going to ask 11 to (16) year olds – some of whom cannot swim – to make that same journey for the first time breathing air underwater? I think that's a terrible mistake given some of the options we have."
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