It’s an incredible and rare breed of person brave enough to give their life to protect a group of perfect strangers. This bravery is why we must all remember Saman Gunan who died last week.
Petty Officer Saman Gunan passed away when he ran out of air during a mission to deliver oxygen tanks to twelve young boys and their football coach, who were trapped in an underground, water-logged cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand, for almost three weeks.
As news breaks of the successful rescue of the thirteen, it’s proper to remember Saman Gunan, who died on Thursday, July 5.
Gunan was at the forefront of the mission to save the trapped youngsters – some of whom are as young as 11 years old – and their 25-year-old coach, Ekaphol Chantawong, from Tham Laung Cave.
The former NAVY Seal, aged just 38, had come out of retirement to help his fellow professional divers, some of whom travelled from all over the world to save the young football team.
The group of thirteen were initially found by British rescue divers. They’d been reported missing after being stuck in the cave for 10 days, perched on a rock shelf in a small chamber, about 4km (2.5 miles) from the cave mouth.
หลังได้ทานอาหารเพิ่มพลังงานที่หน่วยซีลดำน้ำนำเข้าไป และแพทย์ทหารที่ผ่านการฝึกในหลักสูตรนักทำลายใต้น้ำจู่โจมตรวจร่างกายทีมหมูป่าทุกคนแล้ว น้องๆส่งเสียงทักทายผู้คนที่รอคอยอยู่นอกถ้ำฝากมาครับ(บันทึกภาพ 03/07/18)#ทีมหมูป่าทีมSEAL#ThainavySEAL
Posted by Thai NavySEAL on Tuesday, 3 July 2018
They’d gone into the cave on an adventuring exploration to celebrate one boy’s birthday, but became trapped when an unexpected rain shower flooded Tham Laung and blocked their exit.
Worries mounted as it became clear many of the youngsters couldn’t swim.
The conditions in the cave were treacherous:
สภาพน้ำที่ไหลจากด้านในออกไปหน้าถ้ำหลวง ในช่วงเวลา 14.00 น. วันที่ 28 มิย.
Posted by Thai NavySEAL on Thursday, 28 June 2018
Initially, officials thought they’d have to leave the thirteen in the cave until the end of the rain season, but with oxygen levels in the chamber depleting to just 15 per cent (from the norm of 21 per cent) something had to be done before its end, in four months.
So entered the trained team of highly-trained divers, including Gunan.
They were tasked with taking oxygen to those stranded, supported by nearly 1,000 people involved in the rescue operation, including navy divers, military personnel and civilian volunteers.
One round trip from the entrance to the cave through the series of narrow passageways – some submerged entirely – takes 11 hours in total, and involves diving against the current.
Gunan was attempting this when he died after losing consciousness in one of the passageways, said Passakorn Boonyaluck, deputy governor of the Chiang Rai region, where the cave is situated.
He said Saman’s dive partner tried to revive him, and his body was brought out of the cave.
At the time, Mr Passakorn said the operation must continue:
His job was to deliver oxygen. He did not have enough on his way back. I can guarantee that we will not panic, we will not stop our mission, we will not let the sacrifice of our friend go to waste.
Since his death, the thirteen lost in the cave have been freed in a three-day mission, which began on Sunday, July 8.
While the nation – and the global media who’ve been following the incredible story – take a sigh of relief for the friends and family of the rescued, it’s important to pay respects to all those who freed the group, Gunan especially.
His wife, Waleeporn Gunan, spoke to the BBC about her loss, saying:
In other people’s eyes, he’s lovely. For me, I love him so much. I really loved him.
Every day, before he left for work, we said we loved each other. At midday we’d text to see if the other had had lunch. In the evening, when he got home, I would ask him how he was.
If you ask me if I’m sad, it’s like I’ve died but am still alive.
Waleeporn explained how she uses her pride in her husband’s last act of kindness and bravery to help cope with his loss.
The grieving widow added:
I use pride to surpress my sadness. He’s been praised as a hero because of who he was.
He loved helping others, doing charity work and getting things done. So I use pride to help deal with my sorrow.
Sharing a message with Saman, she told her late love, who she calls ‘honey’, he is ‘the hero in [her] heart’, adding: “You always were and always will be.’
His father, Wichai Gunan, also shared some words in the hopes his son would hear:
I am very proud but I am very sad too because I lost my beloved son.
May you rest in peace. Rest well. Daddy loves you.
Waleeporn concluded by recalling how Saman, an avid cyclist and outdoorsman, had once said, ‘We never knew when we would die. We can’t control that so we need to cherish every day’.
His life could – and should – serve as a reminder of the innate selflessness of the human condition, and the bravery we’re all capable of with enough love in our hearts.
No one really knows how they’d react in a crisis unless they’ve experienced one. It’s called the fight or flight response – and it’s perfectly natural to react in either way according to biology and our human instinct for self-preservation.
Stories of the bravery of the boys trapped – who’ve sent letters to their families telling them not to worry – have touched the hearts of people all over the world.
But what Saman did, that final act of selflessness, bravery and kindness, takes an almost superhuman strength of self, and it should never be forgotten.
RIP Saman Gunan.
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A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you’ve never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.