A Thai navy SEAL who aided with the rescue of a youth football team trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand last year has died from an infection he contracted during the dramatic recovery mission.
Petty Officer Beirut Pakbara fell ill with a blood infection while working to retrieve the 12 young boys and their coach, the Thai Navy said in a statement posted on its Facebook page late on Friday.
After the 18-day ordeal came to an end last July – with the entire team emerging safely from Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand – Beirut was under close supervision by doctors during his year-long illness.
“But his condition worsened and he died from the blood infection,” said the Navy, expressing “profound sadness” to his family.
An official in Beirut’s home province of Satun told AFP news agency the Navy SEAL was immediately buried on Friday.
Another rescuer, former Thai Navy SEAL diver Saman Gunan, died during the rescue mission when he ran out of oxygen while attempting to establish an air line to the children and their coach.
A statue of the heroic diver was erected near the cave’s entrance, attracting more than 1.3 million tourists since the team was extracted from their watery jail.
Wild Boars Academy’s coach Ekapol Chanthawong and 12 boys had gone to explore the Tham Luang caves in Chiang Rai province on June 23, 2018, when a rainy-season downpour flooded the cave system and trapped them underground.
They survived for nine days on water dripping from rocks before they were discovered.
International volunteers joined the rescue effort, which ended on July 10 when the boys and their coach were all brought out safely.
The rescue mission – which included foreign expert divers and the Thai Navy – drew extraordinary global interest to the mountainous district of Mae Sai.
The Wild Boars team became global celebrities and have since toured the world, meeting footballing giants at Manchester United and LA Galaxy and headlining Ellen Degeneres’ US talk show.
The rescue has also attracted filmmakers eager to capture the dramatic operation onscreen – with Netflix nabbing exclusive rights to tell the boys’ story.
Another film, The Cave by Irish-Thai filmmaker Tom Waller, made it to silver screens in Thailand last month, though it focused more on the rescue efforts and even starred one of the foreign divers playing himself.