Duangphet Phromthep, Thai cave survivor, dies aged 17

Duangphet Phromthep, one of 12 boys rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand after a week-long campaign that drew global attention in 2018, has died in the UK, British and Thai officials announced on Wednesday.

Phromthep, who was attending a football academy in Leicestershire, England, died after being taken to hospital on Sunday, Leicestershire Police said in a statement to CNN.

The northern regional branch of the Thai government’s public relations department said on Facebook that 17-year-old Phromthep had died in the accident, but did not provide further details.

“The atmosphere at his home in Chiang Rai province is full of grief,” the Thai PR statement said.

The Zico Foundation, a Thai non-profit that helped Phromthep study in the UK through a football scholarship, wrote on Facebook on Wednesday: “Zico Foundation would like to express its condolences to the passing of Mr. Dom Duangpet Phromthep, a scholarship student from the Zico Foundation,” posted a photo of Phromthep.

CNN has reached out to Brooke House College Football Academy, where Phromthep has applied for a football scholarship. The academy said it would issue a statement.

The daring rescue

Phromthep, the captain of the Wild Boars youth soccer team, was rescued after being trapped for more than two weeks in a network of flooded caves in Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai province in the summer of 2018.

The 12 boys and their coach were trapped when rising floodwaters severed them deep inside the cave, sparking an international rescue effort that lasted nearly three weeks.

Divers involved in the rescue described dangerous conditions, with fast-flowing shallow water passing through very narrow passageways.

In a complex three-day final operation, the boys were divided into groups of four and provided with 5mm thick wetsuits, masked breathing apparatus and air tanks.

Each boy is taken out by two divers, who carry oxygen tanks and guide them through the murky tunnels. Each rescue lasted several hours, with most of the time in the water.

The most dangerous part was the first kilometer, in which divers and boys had to squeeze through a narrow and flooded canal.

Rescuers had to hold the boys’ oxygen tanks in front of them and swim like a pencil through the flooded holes. After completing this section, the boys were then handed over to separate, specialized rescue teams, who helped assist them through the rest of the cave, most of which they were able to wade through.

Phromthep, known as Dom, left the cave in a second group of boys taken more than two weeks after they were first trapped. He’s one of three boys whose birthday slipped while they were deep underground. In his first text to his parents, he begged them not to forget. “I’m fine, but the weather is quite cold. But don’t worry,” he said. “Don’t forget my birthday,” he said.

From the hospital, after being rescued, he said he wanted to eat pork and rice and thanked everyone for their support.

All 12 boys were rescued and their coach was later transported to a nearby hospital to recuperate.

Family members greeted the news of their rescue with relief and tears of happiness, punching the air when they heard their son was alive.

Reacting to Phromthep’s death, Prajak Sutham, one of the Thai cave survivors, wrote on Facebook: “We’ve been through a lot together, both good times and bad. We’ve been through life-and-death situations together, when you told me to wait and let’s see how long it takes for you to become a national player. I always believed that you could. Last time we met before you go to the UK, I joked with you that, when you come back, I’ll ask for your autograph. Rest in peace bro, we’ve always had each other, the 13 of us.”

The Doi Wao temple in his hometown in Chiang Rai also expressed condolences to Phromthep’s mother.

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