(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –A former Thai navy diver has died while taking part in efforts to rescue 12 boys and their football coach trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand.
Petty Officer Saman Gunan lost consciousness on his way out of the Tham Luang cave complex, where he had been delivering air tanks.
The boys have been trapped for nearly two weeks in a chamber in the cave.
They ventured in while the cave was dry but were caught out by a sudden deluge of rain, which flooded the system.
The group was found by British rescue divers after 10 days in the cave, perched on a rock shelf in a small chamber about 4km (2.5 miles) from the cave mouth.
Teams of Thai and international divers have since supplied them with food, oxygen and medical attention, but there are mounting concerns about the oxygen level in the chamber, which officials said had fallen to 15%. The usual level is 21%.
On the surface, a huge military and civilian rescue operation is racing against the clock to bring the boys to safety. Heavy monsoon rains are expected on Sunday, threatening further flooding.
Officials had initially considered leaving the boys in the chamber to wait out the rainy season – which could have seen them trapped there for up to four months.
But Thailand’s Navy Seal commander suggested on Thursday that the divers may now have little choice but to attempt a daring emergency rescue – fraught with danger for the boys, who are aged 11 to 16 and some of whom cannot swim.
“At first, we thought the children could stay for a long time… but now things have changed, we have a limited time,” Rear Admiral Apakorn Yookongkaew said.