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Thailand

Ex-Seal diver dies during rescue operation for Thai cave boys, as commander says time is running out

Death raises questions about how a group of trapped boys can make it safely out of complex cave system if an experienced diver could not

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2018, 11:29am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2018, 11:56pm

A former military diver has died after running out of oxygen while helping rescue efforts for 12 boys and their football coach trapped inside a cave in Thailand, an official said on Friday.

His death highlights the perils of the operation to extract the team from deep inside the waterlogged cave, raising questions about the feasibility of bringing youngsters out the same way.

Amid grief over the diver’s death, there was growing sense of urgency, too. The commander of the dive team said he believed there was “a limited amount of time” left in which to extract the boys.

Thai Navy Seal commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew told a news conference Friday morning: “At first we thought that we could sustain the kids’ lives for a long time where they are now, but now, many things have changed. We have a limited amount of time.”

He did not elaborate. The comments came hours after the death of a former SEAL working on the rescue who passed out while diving and later died.

“A former Seal who volunteered to help died last night about 2am,” Chiang Rai deputy governor Passakorn Boonyaluck told reporters at the site, calling it “sad news”.

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The diver, identified as Saman Kunont, was returning from a spot inside Tham Luang cave where the group were located on Monday when his supplies ran short.

“On his way back he lost consciousness,” said Apakorn. “But even though we have lost one man, we still have faith to carry out our work.”

Apakorn said a friend tried to help get him out.

Saman (also known as Gunan or Kunan) was the most decorated adventure racer in Thailand.

Asked how the boys could make it out safely if an experienced diver could not, Apakorn said they would take more precautions with children.

The accident marks the first major setback for the gargantuan effort, which started almost two weeks ago after the “Wild Boars” team went into the cave in northern Thailand after football practice.

Additional reporting by Associated Press