Thais fight water and oxygen levels in cave as diver dies

Leroy Wright
July 6, 2018

"I confirm here again that they are in good health and they are smiling and playing around", he said.

Samarn Poonan, a former member of the country's elite navy SEAL unit died on Thursday night after entering the cave to lay oxygen tanks along a potential exit route, his commander said.

"We are draining as much as we can", said Khao Khieupakdi, a Bangkok disaster prevention official.

Thai Navy divers have brought in substantial supplies - including food and water for at least two weeks along with aluminum blankets, with support from Australian and other global divers, according to a statement from the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

"Diving is always full of risks", Navy SEAL chief Rear Adm. Aphakorn Yookongkaew said.

The victim has been identified as Saman Khunan from Roi Et in north-eastern Thailand.

Divers reportedly each need to carry three heavy oxygen tanks through long and winding chambers to reach the soccer team.

The death of former Petty Officer 1st Class Saman Gunan early Friday morning during an underwater swim in the partly flooded cave struck a particularly deep chord with Thais, because he was a volunteer on a humanitarian mission that has riveted the nation's attention for two weeks. When the rescue mission for the soccer team was announced a number of former SEALS in a group chat sent around the message "See you in Chiang Rai", according to a translation of the post by The Guardian. One of the boys' mother reported them missing after her son didn't return home after practice.

"If they learn about what has happened they will blame themselves", she told CNN.

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A huge worldwide operation has been underway for weeks, with dozens of Thai Navy SEALs and global experts on site.

The soccer team has been trapped in the cave since June 23, after fierce rains raised the water level while they were inside.

"Although water levels have dropped, the diving conditions remain hard and any attempt to dive the boys and their coach out will not be taken lightly because there are significant technical challenges and risks to consider", the British Cave Rescue Council said. In the harrowing footage, rescuers progressed slowly in single file through low-ceilinged and flooded passageways where water in some places reached above their shoulders, gripping a lifeline attached to the cave wall overhead.

Rains are due to hit by Saturday, raising water levels in the cave, which means the boys and their coach may have to be brought out using scuba gear and the group has already practised wearing diving masks and breathing in preparation for the diving possibility.

Rescuers have been working to pump water out of the cave.

Hundreds of rescuers, the bulk of which are Thai Navy Seals, are working to provide those trapped in the cave with all necessary supplies while pumping water out of the complex.

Another video has helped boost morale as its messenger knows better than most what the boys and their coach are going through. He says the challenges of getting out of the cave will be huge.

But rescuers are considering other options including keeping the 13 inside the Tham Luang cave until the flood waters recede, at the end of the rainy season in about four months.

Correction: The spelling of Samarn Kunan's name has been updated to reflect new information.

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