A NAVY seal has died trying to save the 12 Thai boys trapped in a cave.
Former Thai navy hero Saman Kunan suffocated form a lack of oxygen as he attempted to swim back through the underground labyrinth to command centre.
It comes as experts warn a devastating monsoon which could leave them stranded for four months is moving in.
Aged between 11 and 16, the brave lads and their football coach, 26, have been inside the flooded Tham Luang network for 13 days after becoming stranded during a reported initiation ritual.
Heroic Saman, 38, lost consciousness on his way out of the Tham Luang cave and could not be revived by his colleagues.
He had left the navy last year, but returned just to help the rescue effort.
The boys will be taught how to swim and scuba dive as they prepare to take on the “unbelievably dangerous” route of paddling 1.2miles through the tunnel’s murky waters – a perilous journey which would take four hours.
What we know so far:
- The football team made up of 12 boys aged between 11 and 16 and their coach ran into trouble on 23 June
- They were visiting the cave network in Chiang Rai when monsoon rains trapped them deep inside
- They were found safe on Monday night by British divers, who discovered them huddled together on a ledge about 1.2miles inside the network
- They are all in reasonable health – one diver said they were “very weak, but alive”
- The military is sending in provisions to last them up to four months while they assess rescue options
- The children are being taught how to dive and have been given masks to practice breathing
- A Thai navy seal has died during the rescue mission from a lack of oxygen
- A devastating monsoon which could flood the cave and leave them stranded for four months is closing in
Chiang Rai Deputy Governor Passakorn Boonyaluck told reporters: “A former SEAL who volunteered to help died last night around 2am.
“His job was to deliver oxygen. He did not have enough on his way back.”
The boys will be chaperoned through the pitch black cave network, filled with water likened to “black coffee”, by Brit diving experts as torrential monsoon rain showers are expected in the next day.
Described as “very weak, but alive” by a British team of rescuers, the schoolkids have been given plenty of protein snacks and energy gels in bid to build up their strength ahead of their escape.
Meanwhile, heart-warming footage shows the schoolboys smiling while confirming they are in good health.
In the clip, the children, many of whom are wrapped in foil warming blankets, introduce themselves to the camera while putting their palms together and giving a traditional “wai” greeting.
The 12 boys and their coach are seen sitting with Thai navy SEALs in the dark cave with their visibly skinny faces illuminated by the beam of a flashlight.
The video, which lasts around a minute, was recorded sometime Tuesday.
Chiang Rai provincial Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said the children and their coach have been practicing with masks but have not yet attempted any practice dives.
Today, he insisted the boys and their coach would be rescued in stages – depending on their health.
Osatanakorn said: “All 13 may not come out at the same time. If the condition is right and if that person is ready 100%, he can come out.”
The governor also revealed today that a new cave, which is believed to be connected to the complex where the boys are, has been discovered.
He said two main routes of water flowing into the cave have been identified and blocked, reports Sky News.
Authorities are still pumping water out of the tunnel system while also scouring the mountainside for other ways into the cave.
Aside from the rescue plan, another option discussed is providing the group with four months of supplies and having them wait in the complex until rainy season is over.
A rehearsal of the evacuation was carried out this morning which involved volunteers dressed as the 12 young footballers being escorted to a make-shift hospital by soldiers.
The people posing as the boys were then taken away by ambulance to the main medical facility in Mae Sia.
However, the practice rescue did not involve the soldiers going into the cave.
Seven divers, including a doctor and a nurse, joined the group inside the Tham Luang caves in northern Thailand.
But Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said evacuating the lads “must speed up” as soon as possible – before more rain falls and exacerbates the flooding.
He said the boys would be probably brought out via the same complicated route through which their rescuers entered.
But he admitted if something went awry, some of the kids could die.
Mr Paojinda said: “If something happens midway, it could be life-threatening.”
“Diving is not easy. For people who have never done it, it will be difficult, unlike diving in a swimming pool, because the cave’s features have small channels.”
Having them dug out of the cave is also being considered but it’s feared if this is botched it could cause the cavern where the team has taken refuge to cave in.
Draining the caves enough to allow the boys to wade or float out with life vests is another option.
It emerged yesterday the boys visited the cave to attempt a local initiation rite in which they had to scrawl their names on a wall at the end of the tunnel.
Footage has emerged of two Brit rescue divers finding the terrified boys cowering in a darkened chamber inside the caves.
The group appeared exhausted, rake thin and sensitive to the light, with some speaking faltering English to try to communicate with their saviours.
British rescuers were the first to reach the schoolboy footballers after struggling through narrow passages and murky waters of the Tham Luang cave network in Chiang Rai.
Ben Raymenants, who was 1,300ft behind the British divers when they were found, told Sky News: “They had no food. They left their backpacks and their shoes before wading in there, trying to go the end of the tunnel like an initiation for local young boys to go to the end of the tunnel and write your name on the wall and then make it back.
“A flash flood because of sudden heavy rain locked them in, with no shoes and no food. They had just one flash light which obviously ran out.”
Thai authorities have refused to rule out the possibility of charging the 25-year-old coach, Ekapol “Aek” Chanthawong, who took the boys into the cave.
Family members of those trapped say the team often went on adventuring trips together.
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS?
None of the boys can swim, while diving requires extreme mental fortitude, and panicking when swimming – often in pitch black conditions – is deadly.
As they have all been in the dark for 10 days, the team must first all eat to regain strength and would wear sunglasses to protect their eyes as they exit the cave.
Bill Whitehouse, from the British Cave Rescue Council which is helping with the rescue, said the diving option was “certainly not easy”.
He explained: “There’s space to make your way through, but it is 50/50 underwater over 1.5km. That’s still a lot of diving and it’s possible it will need a lot of equipment.”
He told BBC Radio 4: “The other alternative is that you literally bring them out in packages. In other words you fit them with diving equipment: a full face mask, instead of having a gag in your mouth like a lot of divers use; package them up; put the correct weights on them so that they are neutrally buoyant and are not going to get stuck again.”
Edd Sorenson, from Florida for the International Underwater Cave Rescue and Recovery Organisation, advised against trying to get the kids out by diving.
He told the BBC: “That is extremely dangerous and hazardous, and I would consider that an absolute last resort.
“Having somebody in zero visibility that’s not familiar with … that kind of extreme conditions, it’s real easy and very likely that they would panic, and either kill themselves and or the rescuers.”
HOW WOULD THE RESCUE WORK?
The evacuation would see each boy taught to use dive equipment then escorted by pairs of divers – like a relay – through the cave network.
Local media report some sections of the cave are so narrow the youngsters would have to travel through them alone – all while avoiding any panic.
Other sections of floodwaters are so muddy that their rescuers reported being unable to see and had to feel their way through.
Experts say the kids would have to been taken out one-by-one – because if one ran into difficulty this would cause a blockage and risk the lives of the kids behind him.
They are now being sent their first meals of rice and pork – packaged in sealed portions – after having already been given protein and energy gels.
Rescuers this morning also appealed for the donation of 15 small full-face masks. These, unlike an expert diver’s loose mouthpiece, are safer to use for breathing underwater because they are firmly secured.
WHAT ELSE MUST BE DONE?
The country’s military is now providing the boys with enough food and medical supplies to last at least four months.
They have been given energy gels to sustain them while a plan is worked out, but rescuers say right now they are “too weak to climb” and “unable to swim”.
Getting them correctly fed is now crucial to any rescue attempt – people deprived of food can suffer heart failure if not reintroduced to food correctly – and they are all lacking energy.
Other options to save include waiting for the monsoon season to end and having the group walk out, or trying to drill a rescue tunnel from above to airlift them.
However, Ben, from Belgium, told BBC Newsnight: “Time is not on our side – we’re expecting heavy rain in three days.
“If the cave system would flood it would make the access impossible to the kids.”
Rescuers have been consistently trying to pump water out of the cave network since the boys became trapped. Five days ago they punched a hole into the side of the mountain in a desperate, but ultimately fruitless, attempt to drain it.
The group’s health was assessed overnight by medical teams and they were found to have sustained light injuries, but all were in good general health.
The boys and their football coach were found late on Monday night on an elevated rock some 1.2miles deep inside the cave.
A video shot by their Brit rescuers in flickering torchlight revealed boys clad in shorts and red and blue shirts sitting or standing on the rock above an expanse of water.
A member of the multinational rescue team, speaking in English, can be heard telling the boys: “How many of you are there – 13? Brilliant.
“You have been here 10 days. You are very strong.”
One of the boys replies: “Thank you.”
Another asks when they will get out of the cave, to which the rescuer answers: “Not today. You have to dive.”
Brits John Volanthen and Rick Stanton, were first to reach the boys, having had strong experience in cave rescues, according to Bill Whitehouse, of the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC).
HERO BRITS WHO FOUND BOYS
Two British divers have “spearheaded” the discovery of the 12 boys and their football coach and were the first to reach the group.
Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, along with a third Briton, Robert Harper, joined the “huge” search operation after the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC) was contacted by Thai authorities seeking expert help.
Stanton, in his 50s, is a fireman from Coventry who helped to rescue Britons trapped in a cave in Mexico in 2004, according to reports.
He is regarded as one of the world’s leading cave rescue experts, and was made an MBE at the end of 2012.
Divernet described him as “arguably the main face of British cave diving” and he has told the publication he regards diving as “my hobby” and undertakes it completely voluntarily.
Mr Volanthen, an IT consultant in his 40s, who is based in Bristol, reportedly set a world record for the longest dive from the surface of water in a team with Mr Stanton in 2011.
He said in an interview with the Sunday Times magazine in 2013 that caving requires a cool head and that “panic and adrenaline are great in certain situations but not in cave-diving”.
As reported, they flew out along with Robert Harper, who also took part, and are from Derbyshire Cave Rescue.
They found the group along with a team of Thai Navy SEAL divers.
When asked by one of the bewildered boys about where they came from, one of them replied: “England, the UK.”
Rescuers had been focusing on an elevated mound, which cavers have named Pattaya Beach, in the cave complex’s third chamber, knowing that it could have provided the boys with a refuge when rains flooded the cave.
Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said: “The SEALs reported that … they reached Pattaya Beach which was flooded.
“So they went 400 metres further where we found the 13 … who were safe.”
The boys survival was greeted with jubilation nationwide by Thais who have followed every twist of the harrowing story.
Relatives of the boys, who have been at a shelter near the cave hoping for a breakthrough, were seen cheering, smiling and receiving calls after being given the news.
Rescuers shook hands and congratulated each other as occasional cheers broke out.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha thanked the international experts and rescuers for their “tremendous efforts”.
A statement from his office read: “The Royal Thai Government and the Thai people are grateful for this support and co-operation, and we all wish the team a safe and speedy recovery.”
A leading American cave rescue expert says many challenges lay ahead for the rescue divers.
Anmar Mirza, the US National Cave Rescue Commission coordinator, says the primary decision is now one of whether to try to evacuate them or to provide essential supplies until conditions improve.
Mr Mirza said: “Supplying them on site may face challenges depending on how difficult the dives are.
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“Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy.”
He added that “if the dives are difficult then supply will be difficult, but the risk of trying to dive them out is also exponentially greater”.
The boys went missing with their 25-year-old coach after football practice on June 23 after they set out to explore the cave near Thailand’s northern border with Myanmar.
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