Ex-SEAL Diver Dies in Thai Cave Rescue Attempt

Saman Kunan returned to service to help rescue the 12 trapped boys and their coach.

thai cave rescue
Getty ImagesLinh Pham/Getty Images

The rescue effort to save the 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a Thai cave has turned tragic with the death of a diver returning from bringing the boys oxygen.

Former Thai Navy SEAL Saman Kunan was exiting the cave when overtaken by a flash flood. Kunan, 38, was a triathlete in excellent condition. While the trapped survivors received their payload, he did not have enough oxygen left over and succumbed to the powerful water. His body was brought to the surface by another diver.

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His death is the first involved in the incident in the Tham Luang Nang Non caves, where the world has watched for nearly two weeks as the fate of the 13 survivors still lies in the balance. Rama X, the king of Thailand, announced that he would pay for Kunan's funeral.

This is former Petty Officer Saman Gunan, 38 years old, former diver with the Thai Navy who died early this morning returning from the cave where the boys are stranded. He will have a full military funeral. More details

— Dan Johnson (@DanJohnsonNews)

Since being found alive 4 days ago, the international search effort to bring the boys and their coach out of the cave system has grown exponentially. The volunteer effort has grown to over 2,000 people, with the Thai military having to now “well-meaning people” who can offer nothing concrete to the effort.

While the majority of the effort is undoubtedly Thai, the effort has grown to 30 U.S military pararescue and survival specialists, 12 divers from , and communication upgrades from the Israeli company , which has provided handheld radios more powerful than walkie-talkies. Elon Musk has also engineers from two of his companies, SpaceX and The Boring Company, to offer assistance.

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Exploring a cave system after soccer practice, the boys wandered far into the Tham Luang caves before being trapped in a flash flood. An extraction would require divers to swim 6 miles against powerful currents in dirty, muddied conditions. After reaching the boys, ages 11 to 16, several of them would have to be taught how to swim and use SCUBA equipment. From there, it would be a 5 mile swim with the current back to the cave's entrance.

Kunan's death has brought a sharp blow to morale. A volunteer in the rescue effort and a highly trained diver, his death shows the difficulty in what has until now been seen as the most logical plan of attack. Thai leaders vowed to continue the effort with the same force and gusto to honor their fallen comrade.

"I can guarantee that we will not panic, we will not stop our mission, we will not let the sacrifice of our friend go to waste," SEAL commander Rear Admiral Arpakorn Yookongkaew to the BBC.

The large number of people working in the cave have inadvertently put more pressure on the effort: the more people inside, the more oxygen within the cave system being used. While rescue plans are being reconsidered, efforts are now being focused on supplying the boys with a regular supply of oxygen and fiber optic cables, to allow the boys to their families for the first time in almost two weeks.

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