Thailand cave rescue: Diver dies during rescue operation

Policemen stand guard outside a cave during a rescue operation for 12 boys and their coach trapped in the cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 4, 2018. Picture; Getty Images
Policemen stand guard outside a cave during a rescue operation for 12 boys and their coach trapped in the cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on July 4, 2018. Picture; Getty Images
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A Thai navy diver working as part of the effort to rescue a dozen boys and their football coach trapped in a flooded cave has died from a lack of oxygen.

The rescuer, a former Thai SEAL, was working in a volunteer capacity and died during an overnight mission in which he was placing oxygen canisters, Thai SEAL commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew told a news conference.

He said while underwater, the rescuer passed out and efforts to resuscitate him failed.

“Despite this, we will continue until we accomplish our mission,” Mr Arpakorn said.

READ MORE: Thailand cave: Rescuers in race against time as rains close in

Thai authorities are racing to pump out water from a flooded cave where the boys and their coach have been trapped since June 23, before more rains are forecast to hit the northern region.

On Thursday, Chiang Rai provincial Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn said he asked the SEALs in charge of extraction plans to estimate what sort of a risk would be involved to bring out the boys and their coach even though they weren’t 100% ready for a risky dive.

Officials would prefer to get the boys out as soon as possible because heavy rain expected by Saturday almost surely will raise water levels again in the cave, making passage in some areas even more difficult, if not impossible.

They are hoping that an upgraded draining effort can lower the water in an area where it is still at or near the ceiling.

The idea is to get some headroom so the boys would not be reliant on scuba apparatus for a long stretch and could keep their heads above water.

“We can no longer wait for all conditions (to be ready) because the circumstance is pressuring us,” Mr Arpakorn said.

“We originally thought the boys can stay safe inside the cave for quite some time but circumstances have changed. We have limited amount of time.”

The governor has said the 13 may not be extracted at the same time, depending on their condition.

They’ve practised wearing diving masks and breathing, in preparation for the diving possibility.

The boys, aged 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach went exploring in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in the northern province after a football game on June 23.

Monsoon flooding cut off their escape and prevented rescuers from finding them for nine days.

The boys, although skinny, have been described as in good health.

Authorities have said the players are being looked after by Thai navy SEALs, including medics, staying with them inside the cave.

Cave rescue experts have said it could be safest to simply supply the boys where they are, and wait for the flooding to subside.

That could take months, however, given that Thailand’s rainy season typically lasts through until October.