A former Thai navy Seal has died from a lack of air while placing air tanks inside the cave where 12 boys have been stranded for nearly two weeks.
Maintaining air supplies inside the cave emerged as the “top priority” on Friday as rescuers increasingly planned for the prospect of the boys remaining underground throughout the monsoon season that ends in October.
The presence of hundreds of rescue workers inside the cave has been depleting the air supply the boys have been relying on, with oxygen inside their chamber down to about 15%, deputy army commander Chalongchai Chaiyakham said at a briefing on Friday.
|Former Thai navy Seal diver Saman Kunan dies inside cave from lack of air.
Normal oxygen levels in the air are about 21%. Chaiyakham said he was unsure how long the boys could survive in such conditions. “I’m not a medical person. I can’t answer that,” he said. Divers have released 30 tanks of air to try to restore healthy levels.
The former Seal, identified as Saman Kunan, died around 1am on Friday morning after he was returning from placing air tanks along the roughly 3.2km route to the boys, the current method for replenishing the air supply in the cave.
Kunan became unconscious while making the return journey to “chamber three”, around 1.5km inside the cave. A diving buddy tried to revive him but was unsuccessful. His body has been sent to Bangkok airport and he will receive a royal-sponsored funeral.
|The kids and their coach are still inside the cave.
“These accidents can happen sometimes to anyone in the field, but we will go ahead and keep working,” said Rear Adm Arpakorn Yookongkaew, the Thai navy SEAL commander. “Our morale is still strong.”
He was asked how the 12 boys, at least two of who are said to be in a weakened state, could survive a journey through a cave that killed an adult former Seal.
“It’s different,” he said. “The Seals are the workers, they work to rescue, it’s a different standard to the kids. The boys are like the egg in the stone,” he said, a Thai expression suggesting the children were considered extremely fragile and would be treated with care.
With rain falling on the site in northern Thailand and monsoon showers predicted for Saturday, rescuers were planning for how the boys might survive another four months inside the cave they have been stuck in since 23 June.
Hundreds of rescue workers and soldiers are scouring the jungle above where the boys are stranded trying to drill holes that could increase their air supply.
But on Thursday authorities began laying an air pipe from the entrance into the cave. By Friday they had reached the third chamber about 1.5km inside and said another 1.7km of piping was required.
“The top priority today is to fill the air inside [where the boys are],” deputy army commander Chalongchai Chaiyakham said. “We’ve got to finish laying the air pipe today ... With the air filled, the kids could stay for months.”
Yookongkaew told the Guardian the operation was one of the most challenging operations the navy had ever undertaken. “It’s a hell of a job,” he said.The Guardian