Thailand cave rescue: Former Navy SEAL dies due to lack of oxygen while carrying oxygen tanks for the trapped soccer team
38-year-old Saman Kunan died due to a lack of oxygen in the corridors of the cave while trying to reach a cavern set up as a command center 1.2 miles inside the cave network
A former Thai Navy SEAL has lost his life while attempting to rescue the team of young footballers trapped in a cave network in Thailand. Commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew reported that 38-year-old Saman Kunan died due to a lack of oxygen in the corridors of the cave. The Navy SEAL ran out of air at around 2 am local time while trying to reach a cavern set up as a command center 1.2 miles inside the cave network. Kunan had placed oxygen tanks through the cave's underground network and was on his way back to the center before running out of air.
Yookongkaew reported that the deceased was only working as a volunteer in order to save the lives of the football team and their 25-year-old coach.
Kunan was subjected to CPR when a diving partner attempted to revive him after finding him unconscious in the water, but in vain.
The Thai King has announced that his body will be flown to his hometown in Roi Et for a royally-sponsored, grand funeral. As of now, his remains have been sent to Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok.
Kunan's last post on his Facebook was a photo of himself proudly posing at the entrance of the Than Luang cave with his comrades.
Diving experts from across the world have come down to Thailand to examine different ways to rescue the kids. Some have suggested placing full-face oxygen masks and escorting them on a menacing and perilous swim through the muddy tunnels.
But the tragic death of an experienced diver such as Kunan only magnifies the risks in moving the boys in such a way. Moreover, the team of boys is physically weak after surviving several days without food or drink.
At last count, the number of engineers, paramedics, soldiers, and volunteers at the site has swelled up to over 2,000 as officials warned that the window of opportunity to save the youngsters is narrowing each day.
"At first, we thought the children could stay for a long time but now things have changed, we have a limited time," Yookongkaew said, insisting morale remained strong despite the death of the diver.
Despite the death of the diver, Yookongkaew said that the morale of the entire rescue team remained well rooted and strong. He added, "At first, we thought the children could stay for a long time... but now things have changed, we have a limited time. These accidents can happen sometimes to anyone in the field, but we will go ahead and keep working," he told The Guardian. He added: "We won't let his death be in vain. We will carry on."
Overwhelmed, Thai Navy SEALs described Kunan as a "skilled and talented Seal and a triathlon athlete" as they paid tribute to their fallen colleague.
A SEAL statement said: "Even after he departed the Seal unit, he still kept in touch and maintained a tie with the rest of his former colleagues.
"He always participated in the Seal activities until the last step of his life. Saman left us while working as a diver and in a time where all divers joining forces to complete the mission. His effort and determination will always remain the hearts of all divers. May you rest in peace and we will accomplish this mission as you had wished."
The narrow channels with jagged edges make even the most experienced divers take over five hours to swim across to the where the boys are stranded.
Cade Courtley, a former US Navy SEAL, told CNN that bringing the kids out through the submerged tunnels could be life-threatening.
According to him, even divers with significant 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."
Also, it was revealed by Governor Narongsak that out of the 12 stranded children, three are "quite weak, weaker than the other boys".
Authorities further cautioned that oxygen levels had dropped to 15 percent from the usual 21 percent.
According to the governor of Chiang Rai province, Narongsak Osatanakorn, the oxygen levels are depleting due to the presence of several rescue workers.
Currently, holes are being drilled into the cave network in order to increase the supply of oxygen. About 30 tanks of oxygen have been released within the cave system.
An air pipe is being extended from the entrance into the cave. However, over 1.7 km of piping is still required to complete it.
Deputy Army Commander Chalongchai Chaiyakham said, "The top priority today is to fill the air inside [where the boys are].
"We've got to finish laying the air pipe today...With the air filled, the kids could stay for months."
The chief engineer of the rescue mission is currently looking at rescuing the footballers by drilling a hole from the jungle above right into the location where they are stranded. However, it could prove to be dangerous as the boys are trapped in a tiny space.
As of now, the governor is yet to officially announce when the evacuation would commence but maintained that the boys would be taken out only when it is 100 percent safe to do so.