He was in a mission in which he was placing oxygen canisters, SEAL commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew told a news conference Friday morning. Saman Kunan, 38, fell unconscious underwater and died around 1 a.m. local time as he attempted to return from placing air tanks deep inside the underground complex. The soccer team entered the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai province on June 23 with their 25-year-old soccer coach, just after practice had ended. The boys were taking part in some sort of “initiation” ritual, in which they would carve their names on the cave wall.
The rescue operation proved to be very difficult. Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn said on Thursday that rescuers were preparing a three-mile “oxygen pipeline” as part of preparations for the group’s extraction but added that the boys would not be coming out soon. “You see we are increasing the number of people going inside the cave. So we have to fill it up with oxygen,” Narongsak told. Rescue alternatives include teaching the boys to dive and then swim out, a highly risky venture, remaining in the cave for months until the wet season ends and flood waters recede, or drilling a shaft into the cave from the forest above. Heavy monsoon rains are forecast for next week in most of the north, according to Thailand’s meteorological department.