BANGKOK: Wearing a grey polo shirt and blue, tinted glasses, Saman Kunan, 38, took a video before boarding a flight on Jul 1 to join Thai and international teams in northern Thailand to search for the 12 boys and their football coach who went missing in a cave.
"See you tonight at Tham Luang," said an upbeat Saman, referring to the cave complex, before signing off on the video clip and setting off for the province of Chiang Rai on the Myanmar border.
Less than a week later, Saman, a former member of the Thai navy's elite SEAL unit, lost his life as he worked underwater laying oxygen tanks in the cave complex.
He was part of a team trying to establish an air line to the chamber where the children are awaiting rescue.
"Once his mission was over he dove back, but in the middle of their return his buddy found Saman unconscious in the water and tried to pump his heart, but he could not save his life," the SEAL unit said in a statement.
"We won't let his life be in vain. We will carry on," SEAL commander Admiral Apakorn Yuukongkaew told reporters on Friday (Jul 6). "We still have faith to carry out our work."
Saman left the Navy SEAL unit in 2006 to work at Bangkok's main Suvarnabhumi Airport as an emergency rescue officer. However, after hearing news about the missing football team, he rejoined the navy's rescue operation as a volunteer.
AVID CYCLIST WHO LOVED ADVENTURE SPORTS
Saman was the first casualty in a multinational operation to first find, then rescue the boys and their coach who went missing on Jul 23, after heavy rain flooded the cave network they were exploring.
In the video clip he posted before arriving in Chiang Rai, Saman appeared keen to help his old unit find the boys.
"We are supporting the frogs team ... we have medical teams and divers from the navy with us," Saman said, referring to Thai military divers by their nickname.
The SEAL unit paid tribute to the old comrade.
"He was an athlete. He loved adventure sports ... no matter what activity the frogs took part in Saman would join, until the end of his life," the unit said in a statement.
On his Instagram account, he appeared to be an avid cyclist, posting several pictures of himself mountain biking.
A spokesman for the navy, Rear Admiral Chetta Jaipiem, said the navy would seek "special permission" to posthumously promote Saman, who was a petty officer first class when he left the unit.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Friday expressed his deep condolences over Saman's death. Saman's funeral will be sponsored by the Thai King, local media reported.
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