Petty Officer 1st class Samarn Kunun, 38, who had joined the rescue operation, collapsed and died during the operation in the Tham Luang cave in Mae Sai district at about 1am on Friday, Naval Special Warfare Command chief Apakorn Yukongkaew said in front of the cave.
The 13 Mu Pa Academy football club members have been trapped inside the cave since June 23. They were found on Monday night but still cannot leave the cave because of the high water level.
Samarn collapsed on his way back after delivering oxygen tanks inside the cave, Apakorn said.
“Samarn took three oxygen tanks to the area where the boys are stranded. Though it does not look like a long distance, a one-way trek through the tough conditions takes about 5-6 hours. This means we use altogether 12 hours on one return trip,” Apakorn explained.
Samarn was brought to the cave’s chamber three, which is serving as the base for the operation. Samarn’s diving associate tried to resuscitate him by performing CPR on him but he did not regain consciousness.
Apakorn said Samarn was certified with the special operations of SEAL and he had resigned to work for the Airports of Thailand (AoT) at Suvarnabhumi Airport. He joined the operation to secure freedom for the Mu Pa footballers with the cooperation of AoT.
HM King Maha Vajiralongkorn will sponsor his funeral.
Apakorn said he was deeply saddened at the loss of his former SEAL member but the operation will continue to bring the boys out of the cave as soon as possible.