17/07/2018 16:48 BST

Thai Cave Rescue Hero Saman Gunan To Be Honoured By Royal Navy

Navy SEAL died preparing to rescue 12 boys and their coach.

Thai Navy SEAL Saman Gunan died part way through the mission to save 12 young football players and their coach trapped in a cave in northern Thailand

A crowdfunding page launched by Royal Navy divers in support of a Thai Navy SEAL who died during the dramatic rescue of a young football team is close to reaching its target less than a week after being set up.

Saman Gunan, 38, died part way through the mission - on July 6 - while replenishing oxygen canisters along the escape route in northern Thailand. 

The 12 ‘Wild Boars’ and their 25-year-old coach were freed from the Luang Nang Non Cave on July 10, some 17 days after they became trapped there on June 23.  

The boys, aged 11-16, are expected to be released from hospital on Thursday and were only told of Gunan’s death on Saturday, when doctors decided they were strong enough to process the news, the BBC reported.

Henry Nicholls / Reuters
The British cave divers involved in freeing the young football team from a Thai cave - Rick Stanton, Chris Jewell, Connor Roe, Josh Bratchley, Jim Warny, Mike Clayton and Gary Mitchell - after arriving back at Heathrow Airport

“All cried and expressed their condolences by writing messages on a drawing of Lieutenant Commander Saman and observed one minute of silence for him,” said Jedsada Chokdamrongsuk, permanent secretary at the health ministry.

JustGiving page set up by the Royal Navy Clearance Divers Association to support Gunan’s family was just shy of its £6,000 target on Tuesday afternoon. 

The page reads: “The death of Saman Kunan, 38, a volunteer and former Thai Navy Seal, came as a cruel jolt to the tireless efforts of divers, engineers and caving experts who have been working furiously to extract the children aged 11-16, and their coach, 25, since they were found sheltering in a muddy chamber.” 

The Thai diver, who came out of retirement to take part in the rescue mission, will also be honoured by the association with a tribute usually reserved for dead Royal Navy mine clearance divers.

Five bells will be rung out in his memory, for his “exceptional courage and bravery”.

Tony Sexton, membership secretary at the RNCDA, said: “Petty Officer Saman Gunan was a hero in every sense of the word, he had retired from the Navy but on hearing of the plight of the schoolboys turned up and volunteered to undertake a dive very few would.

“He lost his life trying to help others. Five bells Sir, stand down, your work is done.”

Sexton, a former mine clearance diver of 16 years, added: “The dive that Petty Officer Saman Gunan volunteered for fills me with both dread and admiration. I hope the money we raise can help to show his family how well-regarded this brave man was, and assist them in the coming months.”

British divers Rick Stanton, a fireman in his fifties from Coventry, and John Volanthen, an IT consultant based in Bristol in his forties, were the first to reach the group.

Volanthen said Gunan’s death was a tragedy and made the successful mission “bittersweet”.