07/06/2018, 10.29
THAILAND
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Diver dies in race to rescue boys trapped in the caves

He had just refilled one of the chambers with oxygen tanks, but he did not have enough to get back to the surface. His death highlights the dangers of bringing the football team up from the depths of the flooded caves. The most urgent task for rescuers now is to bring air to the boys through a tube.

Chiang Rai (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A former Thai navy diver died during operations to save the boys trapped in the Tham Luang caves, in northern Thailand.

This deputy governor of Chiang Rai Province, Passakorn Boonyaluck reported this morning that, a 38-year-old former Navy officer named Saman Kunam, died on his return from the subterranean complex: he had just refurbished one of the chambers with oxygen tanks. "He did not have enough to get back to the surface," said the deputy governor.

The diver lost consciousness after placing the cylinders in a cavity. One of his colleagues tried to revive him, without success. Kunam was taken to a room where he received first aid, but remained unconscious. Later, he was hospitalized and subsequently died.

The death highlights the dangers of the rescue operations of the football team from the depths of the flooded caves, raising questions about  the safety of bring young people to the surface using similar procedures. Asked how the kids can safely get out when an experienced diver has failed, Commander Apakorn Yookongkaew said that more precautions would be taken with the children.

The relief efforts involve several Thai authorities and more than a thousand people, including teams from China, Myanmar, Laos and Australia. There are Thai marine divers, British cave diving experts and US military personnel. So far the only way to reach the football team is through a complex network of tortuous passages, part of which is submerged due to the monsoons.

Rescuers divided the Tham Luang cave complex into different sections: room one and room two, behind the entrance to the cave; room three, where at the moment the command center of the Thai navey is located; the "Pattaya beach", a raised ledge where at first it was thought they had found shelter for the boys; finally, the area where the 13 survivors are trapped, about 350 meters away from the latter. According to the commander Yookongkaew, the distance between the command center and the boys is about 1.7 km. The whole area is submerged, dark and full of small cracks on both sides. This makes it difficult to cross.

"This mission is very difficult – the General said - we are planning to transport oxygen for the children and their coach through a tube. The divers take between five and six hours to reach them, and about the same time to return. In total, they must remain immersed in water and mud for 12 hours ". The monsoon rains influence the water levels in the caves, where the air pockets are limited. "The most urgent task for rescuers is now to bring the air hose to the boys," said Deputy Commander Chalongchai Chaiyakham. Along 4 km, the conduit will be connected to a telephone line to allow trapped children to maintain contact with rescuers. "This is a matter of life and death," concluded Chaiyakham.

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