The Mu Pa Academy boys were shocked and saddened when told of the death of a former Navy SEAL during the recent marathon operation to rescue them from the flooded Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district.
The young footballers cried, and expressed gratitude to Lt-Commander Saman Kunan for sacrificing his life to save theirs, said Dr Jessada Chokdamrungsuk, the permanent secretary at the Public Health Ministry.
“The boys have promised to grow up to be good persons to honour Lt-Commander Saman,” Jessada said, adding they wrote their condolences on a drawing of Saman and stood in silence.
Saman, then-Petty Officer First Class, collapsed and died on July 6 during the operation to help rescue the 12 Mu Pa Academy football team members and their football coach from the cave where they had been trapped since June 23.
Saman, widely lauded as “Tham Luang Hero”, was the only fatality in the operation.
He was promoted posthumously to lieutenant commander by HM the King on Saturday to honour his sacrifice.
Jessada said doctors allowed the boys’ families to inform them about Saman’s death on Saturday after their physical and mental health had improved to a satisfactory level.
The last boys and the assistant coach were evacuated from the cave on July 10, wrapping up a daring three-day operation. They were placed under medical care, including health check-ups, at Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital. They were found to be weak and suffering from exhaustion after 10 days inside the cave without food before being discovered.
Jessada said the boys were under the close watch of psychiatrists and psychologists when informed of the news about Saman.
Maj-General Dr Wutthichai Issara, a senior doctor of the third Army Region, told the boys on behalf of the military that the effort to rescue them had been an honour and a mission and brought with it prestige.
The permanent secretary revealed that the first four boys to be rescued and admitted to hospital on July 8 had returned to generally normal health and had no signs of disease. Two of them, earlier diagnosed with lung infections, had improved during the week-long regime of antibiotics.
The general health of the second group of four admitted to hospital on July 9 was similar to the first group.
The last group of five footballers was also generally healthy. Some, who experienced ringing sound in their ears, were improving.
Earlier reports said the boys would be discharged from the hospital on Thursday.
On Saturday, a royally sponsored funeral was conducted for Saman at Wat Ban Nong Ku Temple in his hometown Chaturapak Piman district in Roi Et province.
Privy Councillor Surayud Chulanond presided over the funeral that was attended by high-ranking officials, including Narongsak Osottanakorn, who helmed the Tham Luang cave rescue operation.
In addition to family members, relatives and friends, many others also attended to pay tributes to his devotion.
Chiang Rai’s new Governor Prajon Pratsakul will chair a religious rite today in front of the cave. The rite, which Buddhist monks are scheduled to attend, will make merit for Saman, ask for forgiveness from sacred beings and for blessings for a new beginning. The past weekend attracted crowds upward of a thousand people to join in a “Big Cleaning Day” to clean up the messy surrounding of the cave caused by the 17-day operation.
A large amount of equipment remained in the cave and would be removed in due time after the current flood ebbed and entry becomes safe.
Meanwhile Noppadon Kannika, director of Super Poll from the Research Institute for Community Happiness and Leadership, reported the results of a survey that his office recently conducted on People’s Happiness and Thailand’s Happiness among 1.104 respondents.
The survey found that most of the respondents (71.9 per cent) said they kept themselves abreast of the search and rescue operation from day one until the end, and most of them (63.1 per cent ) had paid more attention to the cave saga than to the World Cup football competition.
When asked who they considered heroes of the rescue operation, 94.7 per cent mentioned Thais and foreign experts who extended help.
In addition, 96.5 per cent of the respondents had confidence that the unity of Thais will maintain the public’s happiness.