CHIANG RAI (Thailand) • The 12 boys and their coach rescued from a Thai cave mourned the death of an ex-Navy Seal who died while taking part in the mission, the health ministry said yesterday.
The Wild Boars football team are recovering in hospital following more than two weeks 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 a successful three-day operation which ended last Tuesday when Thai Navy Seals and international cave diving experts hauled the last five members of the team to safety. The first two groups were rescued last Sunday and Monday.
But the lead-up to the final phase of the mission was met with tragedy when volunteer and former Navy Seal diver Saman Gunan died on July 6 while installing oxygen tanks along the narrow, twisting passageways of the cave.
Mr Saman was widely hailed as a hero but the boys, aged 11 to 16, were told about his death only last Saturday after a medical team said they were strong enough mentally to handle the news, though many wept after hearing it.
"All cried and expressed their condolences by writing messages on a drawing of Lieutenant-Commander Saman and observed one minute of silence for him," Mr Jedsada Chokdamrongsuk, Permanent Secretary at the Health Ministry, said in the statement.
Photos released show the boys crowded around a sketch of Mr Saman scrawling messages on it and bowing their heads.
Tributes from Thailand and around the world have poured in for Mr 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.
A 2.4m-high statue of Mr Saman will be placed in front of the cave, reported Thai news outlet Khaosod.
Mr Saman was cremated last Saturday in his home province of Roi Et. He has also been honoured in a royal decree from Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Mr Saman was promoted to lieutenant-commander and awarded the royal decoration of Knight Grand Cross (First Class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant.
Mr Banphot Konkum, father of 13-year-old Duangpetch Promthep, told The Associated Press his son - better known by his nickname, Dom - and the other rescued team members will enter the monkhood to pay tribute to Mr Saman.
The health ministry said many of the 12 young footballers and coach 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.
The boys - and their parents - have been advised to spend time with friends and family and not to give media interviews to avoid triggering post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
An official at the hospital where they are warded said the group will watch a recording of last night's World Cup final, not the live telecast.
"We want the boys to rest and not to be looking at screens too much," said the unnamed official. All are expected to leave hospital on Thursday.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS