A former Thai Navy SEAL member died inside the cave on Thursday night due to lack of oxygen, raising concerns about the 12 school boys and their 25-year-old coach who have been trapped in the flooded caves for almost two weeks now. Samarn Poonan, a former member of Thailand’s elite Navy SEAL unit who was part of the rescue team in Chiang Rai, died after entering the cave to lay oxygen tanks along a potential exit route.
“The conditions in the cave are tough,” Admiral Apakorn Yuukongkaew, commander of the SEALS unit, was quoted as saying by Reuters, adding, “We won’t let his life be in vain. We will carry on.”
The soccer coach trapped along with 12 Thai boys in a letter sent out through divers has apologized to the boys’ parents. “To the parents of all the kids, right now the kids are all fine, the crew are taking good care. I promise I will care for the kids as best as possible. I want to say thanks for all the support and I want to apologize to the parents.” he wrote.
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk tweeted on Friday that engineers from his firms – SpaceX and The Boring Company – were heading to Thailand to see if they could assist the rescue. The firms have “advance ground penetrating radar” that is “pretty good at digging holes” or technology that could “create an air tunnel underwater” for the children to traverse, Musk said earlier.
As the monsoon in Thailand extends till October, there are fears that the boys will remain stuck for months.
While the diving lessons and efforts to pump out water continues, the authorities are keen on providing an oxygen line to reach the kids.
A group of 12 boys and their coach went missing last month after their football practice. The team, which had gone to explore the Tham Luang Nang Non-cave in northern Chiang Rai province, got trapped inside after heavy rains flooded its entrance.
One of the boys’ mother reported them missing after her son didn’t return home after practice. Subsequently, their bicycles and soccer boots were found at the mouth of the caves, prompting authorities to launch a massive rescue operation.
How the Thai cave rescue mission unfolded
After being reported missing on June 23, the police and park officials began a search. They found the group’s belongings, handprints, and footprints near the cave.
The 12 boys, all between the ages of 11-16, belong to different schools in Mae Sai district in northern Thailands. Their coach is a 25-year-old. They are part of a local soccer team called ‘Wild Boar’.
On July 2, the Thai Navy SEALS, and two British cave diving experts found them alive, deep inside a partially flooded part of the cave. They were found on an elevated rock about four kilometres from the mouth of the cave.
A video released by the Thai navy showed the boys in their soccer uniforms sitting in a dry area inside the cave. The video provided major relief to their families waiting outside. The boys were weak but able to move around on their own, reported Reuters.
As none of the boys can swim, the operation to reach them is ongoing. They have been given food, blankets, and first aid.
Difficulties in rescue operations
After the boys were found, Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said, “We found them safe. But the operation isn’t over.”
Non-stop rain has hindered rescue operations. The SEALs are pumping out water from wells near the cave, in an attempt to drain the water inside. Almost 120 million litres of water was pumped out by late on Tuesday, or about 1.6 million every hour, reported Reuters.
Thai authorities are working with Navy SEALs to run an internet line into a flooded cave so that communications can be established between the group and their families. They tried doing the same on Tuesday, however, the equipment was damaged by water.
Despite efforts to teach the group to dive, authorities believe this would be dangerous. “Trying to take non-divers through a cave is one of the most dangerous situations possible, even if the dives are relatively easy,” Anmar Mirza, the US National Cave Rescue Commission coordinator, was quoted as saying by AP.
Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, meanwhile, said that he was “pleased and greatly relieved” that the boys were located.
But the SEAL commander said yesterday, “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,” reported AP. As the monsoon in Thailand extends till October, there are fears that the boys will remain stuck for months.