The 12 young soccer players rescued from a cave in northern Thailand paid homage Sunday to the former navy Seal who lost his life in the operation to save them. The boys, rescued a week ago after more than two weeks trapped in the partially flooded cave, remain quarantined in a hospital in Chiang Rai. They were not told of Seal Saman Kunan’s death until Saturday.
“All cried and expressed their condolences by writing messages on a drawing of Lieutenant Commander Saman,” Jedsada Chokdamrongsuk, Thailand’s secretary for public health, said in a statement. The boys observed one minute of silence in Saman’s honour, Jedsada said. A photo of the boys released by the Health Ministry shows some of the boys standing, heads bowed, around a picture of Saman. “They also thanked him and promised to be good boys,” he said.
Saman’s wife, other family members and friends paid their respects to the Seal in a final religious ceremony Sunday. Thailand’s royal family sponsored the service, and Saman’s ashes were to be floated in the Mekong River, the Bangkok Post reported. Saman, 38, had retired from Thailand’s navy Seal and was working as an airport security officer when he volunteered for the rescue operation.
The triathlete passed out during a dive on July 6 and was declared dead a short time later. Thailand’s king posthumously promoted Saman to lieutenant commander from petty officer after his death. “Sam now takes care of everybody in heaven. I will follow in his footsteps here,” his tearful wife said at the memorial service. “We stay together and we are in each other’s hearts forever.”
The 12 boys ages 12-17 and their 25-year-old coach had gone exploring after a practice June 23, but heavy rains flooded the cave and trapped them more than 2.5 miles from the entrance. They were found nine days later, and the complex rescue took several days to plan and more than 100 volunteers to complete.
The three-day, international rescue operation was successful, and the boys are being held in quarantine while they recover from minor injuries and regain their strength. They are expected to be released from the hospital on Thursday.
More than a dozen countries provided help to the rescue operation. The national tourist bureau released a short video thanking the global community. “Without national boundaries, working in unity, the world is one,” the narrator says in English. “Thank you.”