Asia-Pacific

Tears as Thai cave boys learn of hero Navy Seal’s death

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Days after they were plucked from the flooded cave system, hospital authorities have determined the 'Wild Boars' soccer team were strong enough to hear of the tragedy that occurred during the rescue operation.

The 12 boys and their coach rescued from a Thai cave have mourned the death of an ex-Navy Seal diver, who died during the dramatic rescue attempt.

The "Wild Boars" football team are recovering in hospital following 18 days spent inside the Tham Luang cave after entering on June 23 and getting trapped by monsoon floodwaters.

Doctors say they are in good health following the successful three-day operation which ended July 10 when teams of Thai Navy Seals and international cave diving experts hauled the last five members of the team to safety.

But the lead-up to the final phase of the mission was met with tragedy when volunteer and former Navy diver Saman Kunan died on July 6 while installing oxygen tanks along the twisting passageways of the cave.

The
The "Wild Boars" soccer team are now recovering in hospital after their ordeal.
AAP

Saman was widely hailed as a hero but the boys, aged 11 to 16, were only told about his death on Saturday after a medical team said they were strong enough mentally to handle the news, though many wept after hearing it. He has since been promoted and hailed as a hero by Thailand’s king.

"All cried and expressed their condolences by writing messages on a drawing of Lieutenant Commander Saman and observed one minute of silence for him," Jedsada Chokdamrongsuk, permanent secretary at the health ministry, said in a statement.

A Thai military honour guard transports Saman Kunan's coffin.
A Thai military honour guard transports Saman Kunan's coffin.
AAP

"They also thanked him and promised to be good boys."

Tributes from Thailand and around the world have poured in for Saman, a triathlete and diver who retired from the military in 2006 and worked at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport before volunteering to help with the rescue in northern Thailand.

Former Thai Navy Seal Petty Officer 1st class Saman Kunan.
Former Thai Navy Seal Petty Officer 1st class Saman Kunan.
AAP

The specialists who took part in the risky mission to bring the Wild Boars home have expressed shock and surprise that they were able to pull it off, with some fearing that there could have been more casualties.

Australia played a key part in the rescue attempt, including Adelaide anaesthetist Richard “Harry” Harris and his diving partner, retired Perth vet Craig Challen.

Dr Harris assessed the boys and decided they were up to the task of making the trek out of the cave after being sedated.

Mr Challen said the boys were medicated to the extent “they didn’t know what was going on”.

“They had drugs,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.

“We could not have panicking kids in there, they would have killed themselves and possibly killed the rescuer as well.”

Earlier, Dr Harris thanked all of the international volunteers and Thai rescue workers. He said he's experienced a "bittersweet" homecoming, following the shock death of his father while he was in Thailand.

 The resilience of the boys has also been surprising, with health officials conveying a largely positive picture of their recovery.

Australian divers Craig Challen and Richard Harris have returned home after the Thai rescue.
Australian divers Craig Challen and Richard Harris have returned home after the Thai rescue.
AAP

All are expected to leave hospital on Thursday.

The health ministry said the overall condition for the players and coach was normal, though many are still on a course of antibiotics.

Despite the positive assessments so far experts have said they would all need to be monitored closely for signs of psychological distress that could take months to manifest.

They spent nine days in the dark, dank cave before being located by two British divers.

The boys - and their parents - have been advised to spend time with friends and family and not to give media interviews as that could trigger post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

But the interest in their story is unlikely to evaporate overnight, as Hollywood producers are already jockeying to make the film of the saga.

Unfortunate, one treat the boys were looking forward won’t come to pass.

The Wild Boars and their coach won’t be able to watch Sunday night’s World Cup final live – because it’s on too late.

"Given that the final will be broadcast quite late our time, and we want the boys to rest and not to be looking at screens too much, we will probably record the final and show it to them later," said the official the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital.

The official declined to be identified as she is not authorized to speak to media.

France plays Croatia in the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday, at 10 pm in Thailand.

The world soccer governing body FIFA had invited the boys and their coach to attend the final in Moscow but they can not go for medical reasons.

The 12-member "Wild Boars" soccer team and their coach spent more than two weeks trapped inside a flooded cave in the northern province of Chiang Rai.

They have been recovering in hospital since they were rescued over three days last week and will be discharged on Thursday.

The Thai boys during their cave ordeal.
The Thai boys during their cave ordeal.
AAP

The boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach had planned to explore the Tham Luang cave complex for about an hour after soccer practice on June 23. But a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.

Two British divers found them on July 2, squatting on a mound in a flooded chamber several kilometres inside the complex. Rescuers then had to work out how to get them out through the flooded tunnels.

All 13 were brought to safety in a perilous rescue organized by Thai Navy Seals and an international team of cave-diving experts.

The rescue was greeted with joy by some of the world's biggest soccer clubs.

Last week, Manchester United invited the "Wild Boars" to watch a match at their Old Trafford ground.

The Thai Navy Seals after the rescue operation.
The Thai Navy Seals after the rescue operation.
AAP

About 4,000 volunteers were on Sunday taking part in a clean-up of the area around the Tham Luang cave.

A park area around the mouth got trampled by the hundreds of rescuers, and media workers, who flocked to help with the mission and to report on it.

Authorities have closed the cave for now but hope to reopen it later as a tourist attraction - with sufficient safeguards in place to make sure no one gets trapped again. 

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