Navy SEAL who died during Thai cave rescue honoured posthumously

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn has issued a royal decree promoting and honouring the Thai Navy SEAL diver who died in a rescue operation earlier this month for the 12 boys trapped inside a flooded cave with their coach in northern Thailand. 

Saman Kunan, 37, died on July 6 while placing oxygen tanks in the cave in preparation for the rescue, which was successfully completed last week over three consecutive days beginning on Sunday.

The king’s decree promoted Petty Officer First Class Kunan to lieutenant commander while honouring him with the royal decoration of Knight Grand Cross (first class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant.

The now lieutenant commander was the only fatality in the operation.

An honour guard hold up a picture of Saman Kunan, 38, a former member of Thailand’s elite navy SEAL unit who died working to save 12 boys. Source: Reuters

Thai Navy SEAL paid tribute to the 37-year-old on Facebook on Saturday. 

“You, your goodness will be in our hearts forever,” the navy wrote. 

The former Navy SEAL’s wife, Valeepoan, told the BBC of her devastation last week.  

“It’s like I’ve died, but I’m still alive… I use pride to repress my sadness,” she said.

Valeepoan also paid tribute to her husband on her Instagram account with the caption, “I love you so much”.

Saman was laid to rest earlier this month. Friends and family remember him as a charitable selfless man who loved cycling and running. Source: Facebook/ Sam Sam

The head of the rescue, Narongsak Osottanakorn, described Saman as “the real hero”. 

The 12 young football players, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were trapped inside the cave on June 23 after flash floods blocked their only exit. 

The group is currently recovering in hospital in Chiang Rai province near the Myanmar border, about 1,000 kilometres north of Bangkok. 

The boys were filmed from their hospital beds thanking the public for their support.

With AAP

An honour guard carries the coffin of Saman at an airport in Rayong province, Thailand, last week. Source: REUTERS/Panumas Sanguanwong