A FORMER Thai Navy SEAL has died while attempting to rescue the team of young footballers trapped in a cave in Thailand.
Saman Gunan, 37, had been working as a volunteer rescuer at the Tham Luang cave system and was placing oxygen tanks along a potential escape route when he suffocated.
Petty Officer Kunan was returning to a command centre 1.2 miles inside the waterlogged cave complex when his oxygen supplies ran out at 2am local time.
A diving partner tried to revive the 37-year-old but was unsuccessful.
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"Inside the cave is tough," said Thai Navy SEAL commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew.
"On the way back from setting up oxygen bottles, Petty Officer First Class Saman Gunan passed out. His buddy tried to give him first aid, but he did not respond.
"We brought him to chamber three and gave him another round of first aid, but he remained unconscious."
Mr Kunan had been working in a volunteer capacity to help the 12 boys and their 25-year-old coach, according to authorities.
The group are understood to be between 800m and 1km below the surface, and rescue teams have reported that the level of oxygen in the cave has now dropped to to 15% - the usual level is around 21%.
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Deputy Army Commander Chalongchai Chaiyakham said: "The top priority today is to fill the air inside.
"We’ve got to finish laying the air pipe today ... With the air filled, the kids could stay for months."
International rescue workers, divers and soldiers are continuing to arrive and help pump water from the cave as the stranded footballers approach two weeks inside the cave.
The pumps have managed to reduce water levels in the cave by around 40%, but monsoon showers are predicted this weekend and authorities say they are now "racing against the rain".
The King of Thailand has announced that PO Kunan will be honoured with a royally-sponsored funeral.
Army chiefs said the search operation would go on, adding: "We will not let the sacrifice of our friend go to waste."