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Death of Thai navy diver shows how dangerous cave rescue is, says expert

Bill Whitehouse, vice chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council said the death of former Thai Seal, Saman Kunan, is ‘awful news’.

The death of a Thai navy diver working to rescue a dozen trapped boys and their football coach from a cave shows how dangerous the operation is, a British expert has said.

Bill Whitehouse, vice chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC) said the death of volunteer rescuer and former Thai Seal, Saman Kunan, is “awful news”.

He died during an overnight mission in which he was placing oxygen canisters – passing out underwater – Thai Seal commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew has told reporters.

It is a very unforgiving environment, if something goes wrong you can’t just pop up to the surface

Speaking to the Press Association, Mr Whitehouse said of Mr Kunan’s death: “It illustrates the dangers in the operation that is being undertaken, it isn’t a walk in the park.

“We don’t know the details of why it has happened, but things can happen.

“It is a very unforgiving environment, if something goes wrong you can’t just pop up to the surface.”

The strategically placed canisters allow divers to stay under water for longer during what is about a five-hour trip to reach the stranded youngsters and their coach.

Rescuers are currently pumping millions of litres of water out of the cave network to try and extract the group through nearly a mile of tunnels before forecasted heavy rains move in on Saturday.

Thai officials are not only racing against worsening weather, but also lowered oxygen levels in the underground complex in the north of the country – which Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osatanakorn has said is due to the workers inside the cave.

Seal commander Mr Yookongkaew also stressed to a press conference on Friday that “things have changed” and there is only a “limited amount of time”.

The boys, aged 11-16, and their coach, 25, were trapped inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in the northern province of Chiang Rai after a football game on June 23.

Monsoon flooding cut off their escape, and they have been on a rocky shelf inside a cave chamber since and although weak, are largely in good health, authorities have said.

Two elite British divers, Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, were the first rescuers to reach the group on Monday night.

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The boys are weak but in reasonable health (Tham Luang Rescue Operation Center via AP)

On Thursday England footballer John Stones said he hoped the 12 children “get out safe and sound” as he sent the squad’s best wishes.

It came as it emerged one of them appeared to be wearing a red replica England shirt worn by the team during their World Cup victory over Colombia.

Fifa has also sent a letter to the president of the Football Association of Thailand to extend its “deepest sympathy and support” to the young players’ families.

The letter, signed by Fifa President Gianni Infantino, also said they would like to invite the youngsters and their coach to the World Cup final in Russia – if they are rescued in time and well enough to travel.

It adds that the team’s appearance at the final would “undoubtedly be a wonderful moment of communion and celebration”.

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