As the world celebrates the successful rescue of the junior Thai soccer team trapped in a cave, people are also paying tribute to the heroic diver who lost his life during the rescue mission.


Photo Credit: Valeepoan Kunan/Instagram

Posting on Instagram, Samarn Kunan’s widow Valeepoan Kunan wrote “I miss you. I love you like you are my very heart… from now on when I wake up… who will I kiss?” Her post gathered comment after comment as people from all around the world payed their condolences and praised his selfless act.

Touching tributes and support from across the world

“My sincerest condolences on your loss. He died a hero in every language,” wrote one commenter. Another said: “No one can imagine your pain. I pray in time you will find peace. What an outstanding man he was, You guys will meet again. I hope God wraps his arms tightly around you and gives you comfort.”

While Valeepoan’s loss is unquestionably enormous, the widow of the former elite Navy Seal diver was quick to absolve the 12 boys and their coach of any blame or guilt.

Some have called their decision to enter the cave during monsoon season reckless, but Valeepoan sent a message to the boys through the media, saying: “Please don’t blame yourselves,” Reuters reported.

Petty officer Samarn Kunan would have probably agreed. After all, the 38-year-old had retired from the Thai Navy SEALs in 2006 and was working at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. But as it became increasingly obvious that rescuing the soccer team would prove a harrowing challenge, Saman joined rescue effort on site on July 1.

Giving his life for the cause

18 divers, Thai and international, worked tirelessly to figure out how to best help the trapped children. As the danger of further flooding increased, Saman worked day after day to do his part.

But the Tham Luang cave complex is a treacherous one, especially flooded, with minimal visibility, and certain sections so tight that going through with oxygen tanks was impossible. Rescuers did not speak of it publicly, but all knew that fatalities were almost unavoidable. And on July 6, Tham Luang claimed its first and thankfully only life.

On a mission to place oxygen tanks within the cave, Samarn lost consciousness due to lack of oxygen. His diving partner tried to wake him up. He tried to revive him. But in the end, it was impossible. He emerged with Samarn’s body just two days before the first children were brought out. His death was a heavy blow to the rescue team, bringing home the stakes of the mission.

“Samarn Kuran is the real hero,” head of the rescue mission Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters. “On the day he passed, the entire team was sad, but we used this sorrow. We saw that he gave his life for this cause.”

And indeed, all pushed on, working tirelessly. On the 17th day of the operation, the last of the boys and their coach were successfully brought out of the cave and are now recovering in hospital with minimal injuries.

Without Samarn’s enormous contribution, the rescue very well might have not happened. A Thai artist has already pledged to create a statue in of Samarn to be placed in the province where the cave is located, and King Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand pledged a full royally-sponsored funeral for the fallen hero.