Thai diver dies as rescue teams ponder how to bring out trapped boys

CHIANG RAI, Thailand July 6 (Reuters) - A former Thai navy diver died working to save 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped inside a flooded cave, highlighting the risks for rescue teams trying to find a safe way to bring the group out after 13 days underground.

Dwindling oxygen levels in the cave complex and weather forecasts predicting more heavy rain added to the pressure on authorities to work out a rescue plan.

Samarn Poonan, 38, a former member of Thailand's elite navy SEAL unit, died on Thursday night as he worked underwater in the cave complex, laying oxygen tanks along a potential exit route, the SEAL commander said.

"We won't let his life be in vain. We will carry on," Admiral Arpakorn Yuukongkaew told reporters on Friday.

Samarn was working with a partner placing oxygen tanks in a section of the cave. As they returned, Samarn fell unconsious about 1.5 kms from the cave entrance.

"Once his mission was over he dove back, but in the middle of their return his buddy found Samarn unconsious in the water and tried to pump his heart, but he could not save his life," the SEAL unit said in a statement.

The diver's death also highlighted the risks for the boys, who have no scuba diving experience, if authorities decide they should attempt to swim out of the flooded cave.

49 PHOTOS
Members of Thai children's soccer team found alive at Tham Luang caves
See Gallery
Members of Thai children's soccer team found alive at Tham Luang caves
Rescue teams search the Tham Luang caves for 13 members of an under-16 soccer team, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Rescue teams search the Tham Luang caves for 13 members of an under-16 soccer team, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Relatives pray outside the Tham Luang caves, where 13 members of an-under 16 soccer team are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Thai military personnel and rescuers are seen outside the Tham Luang caves, where 13 members of an-under 16 soccer team are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Soldiers read a map near the Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Chayut Setboonsarng
A military personnel is seen inside of the Tham Luang caves where 13 members of an under-16 soccer team were trapped in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Rescue workers are seen inside of the Tham Luang caves where 13 members of an under 16 soccer team were trapped in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Journalists work in Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A family member cries near Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Family members pass their time near Tham Luang caves during a search for 12 members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Christian volunteers pray near the Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A soldier hold a map as he works near the Tham Luang cave complex during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
British diver Richard William Stanton arrives to the Tham Luang caves during a search for the members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Rescue workers work near the Tham Luang caves during a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Thailand's Prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha clean wipes sweat from his face as he meets with family members near the Tham Luang cave complex during an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers unload aids near the Tham Luang cave complex, as a search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers work in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A soldier walks in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A diver walks in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers work in Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A military helicopter lands near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A military helicopter take off near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers work near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A spirit and Buddha state image are seen in front of a cave near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Soldiers and rescue workers work near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Divers equipment is seen near Tham Luang cave complex, as an ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
An ongoing search for members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach continues, near Tham Luang cave complex, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Journalists try to interview a military officer near the Tham Luang cave complex, as members of an under-16 soccer team and their coach have been found alive, according to a local media's report, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
TOPSHOT - Indian schoolchildren hold placards and pictures during a prayer event for the safe rescue of young football players and their coach stuck in a cave in Thailand, in Ahmedabad on July 9, 2018. - Rescue workers dived deep inside a flooded Thai cave for a second straight day on July 9 in a treacherous bid to save a group of young footballers, with the mission chief promising more 'good news' after four of the 13 were saved. (Photo by SAM PANTHAKY / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 9: Classmates of Adul, one of the boys trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave, visit a tribute for the Wild Boars soccer team at the entrance of Ban Waingphan school on July 9, 2018 in Chiangrai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to pull the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Videos released by the Thai Navy SEAL shows the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach are in good health in Tham Luang Nang Non cave and the challenge now will be to extract the party safely. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 9: Classmates of Adul, one of the boys trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave, visit a tribute for the Wild Boars soccer team at the entrance of Ban Waingphan school on July 9, 2018 in Chiangrai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to pull the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Videos released by the Thai Navy SEAL shows the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach are in good health in Tham Luang Nang Non cave and the challenge now will be to extract the party safely. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 10: A helicopter transport boys rescued from Tham Luang Nang Non cave from a cave to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital on July 10, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to free the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Videos released by the Thai Navy SEAL shows the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach are in good health in Tham Luang Nang Non cave and the challenge now will be to extract the party safely. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
An ambulance exits from the Tham Luang cave area as operations continue for the 8 boys and their coach trapped at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 9, 2018. - Four boys among the group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on July 8 after surviving a treacherous escape, raising hopes elite divers would also save the others soon. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai policemen secure the road leading to Tham Luang cave area as rescue operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 9, 2018. - Four boys among the group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on July 8 after surviving a treacherous escape, raising hopes elite divers would also save the others soon. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
A sand art about Thailand boys rescue tragedy is seen at the Bay of Bengal Sea's eastern coast beach, creating by Indian sand artist Sudarshan Pattnik for public awareness at Puri 65 km away from the eastern Indian state Odisha's capital city Bhubaneswar, on July 10, 2018. (Photo by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Police and military personnel use umbrellas to cover around a stretcher near a helicopter and an ambulance at a military airport in Chiang Rai on July 9, 2018, as rescue operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district. - Four boys among the group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on July 8 after surviving a treacherous escape, raising hopes elite divers would also save the others soon. (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Thai soldiers walk out from the Tham Luang cave area as operations continue for the 8 boys and their coach trapped at the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 9, 2018. - Four boys among the group of 13 trapped in a flooded Thai cave for more than a fortnight were rescued on July 8 after surviving a treacherous escape, raising hopes elite divers would also save the others soon. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai police monitor a press conference by officials at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital in Chiang Rai on July 10, 2018 as the rescue for a group of boys and their coach trapped in a cave in nearby Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park continues. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
A nurse adjusts her facemask at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital in Chiang Rai on July 10, 2018, as the rescue for a group of boys and their coach trapped in a cave in nearby Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park continues. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the media report from a hill near the Tham Luang cave area as the operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 10, 2018. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
An ambulance leaves the Tham Luang cave area as operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 10, 2018. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
A Thai military police salutes an ambulance leaving from the Tham Luang cave area as the operations continue for those still trapped inside the cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 10, 2018. - Rescuers raced to save four young footballers and their coach who remain trapped in a flooded Thai cave on July 10, as heavy rains threatened an already perilous escape mission that has seen eight of the boys extracted in 'good health'. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 10: Onlookers watch and cheer as ambulances transport the 10th rescued schoolboy from a helipad nearby to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital on July 10, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to free the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Thai Navy SEALs have confirmed that the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have now all been extracted safely. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 10: Onlookers watch and cheer as ambulances transport the 10th rescued schoolboy from a helipad nearby to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital on July 10, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Divers began an effort to free the 12 boys and their soccer coach on Sunday morning after they were found alive in the cave at northern Thailand. Thai Navy SEALs have confirmed that the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have now all been extracted safely. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND - JULY 10: Onlookers watch and cheer as ambulances transport some of the rescued schoolboys from a helipad to Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital on July 10, 2018 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Thai Navy SEALs confirmed on Tuesday that the 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have now all been extracted safely 17 days after they got trapped underground alive in a cave in northern Thailand. The boys of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach are to spend at least a week in a hospital in Chiang Rai Province and remain under observation due to a risk of rare infections. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
Volunteers celebrate at a makeshift press centre in Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 10, 2018, after the twelve boys and their football coach were rescued. - The final five members of a young football team were rescued from a flooded Thai cave on July 10, after spending 18 harrowing days trapped deep inside, completing an astonishing against-the-odds rescue mission that captivated the world. (Photo by Ye Aung THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman reacts near a hospital where the children's football team members are treated after being rescued, in Chiang Rai on July 10, 2018. - All 12 boys and their football coach trapped in a cave in northern Thailand for more than a fortnight have been rescued in an unprecedented three-day mission that had all the features of a blockbuster film. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
Chiang Rai province acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn (2L) greets journalists during his news conference near Tham Luang cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Journalists celebrate before a news conference near Tham Luang cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"A navy SEAL just passed away last night. How about a 12-year-old boy that will have to pass through?" said Rafael Aroush, an Israeli living in Thailand and volunteer at the site.

"There will be rain and many things could go wrong. I don't want to say it, but it could be a catastrophe," he said.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha expressed his condolences over Samarn's death but it would not deter the rescue teams, a spokesman said.

"Authorities have not lost courage because of this," Thassada Thangkachan told reporters in Bangkok.

Officials warned on Friday that oxygen levels inside the cave have fallen and rescuers were racing to get more oxygen pipes into the cave. They have been working on a five km (three miles) "oxygen pipeline" to prepare for the group's extraction.

Rescuers, including international teams, are pondering other ways to bring the group out before heavy rains hit the country's north next week which could further hamper the rescue operation.

In a rare piece of good news, rescuers on Friday cleared enough water from inside the cave to be able to wade to one of the cave's chambers located about 1.7 kms from the boys' location without diving.

DEEP WATER

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.

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their assistant coach were found inside the Tham Luang cave in northern Chiang Rai province on Monday, after nine days underground. They went missing after setting out to explore the cave on June 23.

Rescuers have been slowed by logistical issues including high water levels inside the cave and narrow, flooded passages which would require the boys to dive alone.

The navy is teaching the boys the basics of diving, with a view to guiding them out through flood waters.

But getting them out won't be easy.

The boys will have to be taught how to use scuba diving gear and how to navigate a cave that has frustrated even the most expert divers. Some of the boys cannot swim.

"Regarding the plan for the 13 to swim or dive, there is only one critical point which is risky: It is where every boy has to dive alone," Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn said on Thursday.

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

If the weather is on their side and enough water can be pumped out of the cave, the boys could get out the same way they got in, on foot, perhaps with some swimming.

Another option would be to find an alternative way into their chamber, such as drilling a shaft into the cave from the forested mountain above.

(Additional reporting by John Geddie and Patpicha Tanakasempipat in CHIANG RAI, Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Pracha Hariraksapitak and Panarat Thepgumpanat in BANGKOK Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre Editing by Michael Perry and Darren Schuettler)

Read Full Story