The rescue attempt of the Thai soccer team trapped in a cave is being played out before the world. On Friday, it took a very somber turn. The latest setback on Friday was the death of a former Thai navy SEAL. It is a sign of just how dangerous this rescue mission is, as the heroic team races to retrieve the young boys and their coach before the weather worsens.
Saman Kunan, 38, fell unconscious underwater and died around 1 a.m. local time. He was attempting to return from placing air tanks deep inside the underground complex. A fellow diver tried to revive him but was unsuccessful.
“The conditions in the cave are tough,” Admiral Apakorn Yuukongkaew, commander of the SEALs unit, told reporters on Friday.
“Once he placed the oxygen tanks he became unconscious on his way back. His buddy tried to administer first aid, when there was no response he tried to move him,” Apakorn added. “We won’t let his life be in vain. We will carry on.”
Authorities are concerned about how much air the 12 stranded boys and their coach have access to inside the cave. The supply is being depleted by the presence of hundreds of rescue workers.
Deputy army Commander Chalongchai Chaiyakham said Friday it was unclear how long the remaining air would last.
Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn said on Thursday that rescuers were preparing a three-mile “oxygen pipeline” as part of preparations for the group’s extraction but added that the boys would not be coming out soon.
“You see we are increasing the number of people going inside the cave. So we have to fill it up with oxygen,” Narongsak told reporters.
The rescue team, which is now international, is considering alternative ways to bring the group out before heavy rains hit the country’s north next week, further hampering the operation.
Some alternatives include teaching the boys to dive and then swim out, a highly risky venture, remaining in the cave for months until the wet season ends and flood waters recede, or drilling a shaft into the cave from the forest above.
The Thai navy is teaching the boys the basics of diving, with a view to guiding them out through flood waters. However, some of the boys cannot swim and navigating the cave through small passage ways has frustrated even the most expert divers.
Volunteers at the Tham Luang cave in northern Chiang Rai province were shaken by the diver’s death.
“A navy SEAL just passed away last night. How about a 12-year-old boy that will have to pass through?” Rafael Aroush, an Israeli living in Thailand and volunteer who arrived at the cave site on Thursday, told Reuters.
“There will be rain and many things could go wrong. I don’t want to say it, but it could be a catastrophe,” he said.
Heavy monsoon rains are forecast for next week in most of the north, according to Thailand’s meteorological department.