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Thai Diver Dies While On Cave Rescue Mission

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of the people trying to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from a cave in Thailand has died. He's a former special forces diver in the Thailand navy. And he died as authorities tried to step up their efforts to rescue those trapped inside the cave. Heavy rains are expected on Saturday. And, of course, it was heavy rain that flooded the cave. Michael Sullivan reports from the Tham Luang cave complex.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The Thai navy SEAL commander on the ground, Admiral Apakorn Yuukongkaew, broke the news of Samarn Poonan's death at a news conference here this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

APAKORN YUUKONGKAEW: (Speaking Thai).

SULLIVAN: The admiral said conditions inside the cave were very difficult and that Samarn had been laying oxygen tanks along a possible exit route when he lost consciousness on the way out. His buddy tried to revive him but failed. It was a grim reminder of the complex nature of any effort to extract the boys, who are some 2 miles inside the cave, where some passageways remain underwater. But the admiral said the effort to rescue the boys would continue without interruption. And there were signs of progress today, despite the fatality overnight.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER RUSHING)

SULLIVAN: I'm standing in front of four pipes that have been pumping water out of the cave complex for most of the last week. And today there's far less water coming out of these pipes than there has been the rest of the week, which means to me that they're succeeding in pumping a lot of water out of the cave and getting the water level inside down. And that's good news for any attempt to rescue the boys.

But rescuers know that their options are limited and time short. The heavy rain expected to resume again on Saturday could flood the cave even more and force rescuers to abandon positions they've set up inside the cave and could even reach the place where the boys found refuge after they disappeared nearly two weeks ago.

At the nearby Mae Sai Prasitsart School, classmates of two of the trapped boys, Dom and Mik, had a message for their friends.

JINDA SUEMUENG: (Speaking Thai).

SULLIVAN: Thirteen-year-old Jinda Suemueng said, "I want to tell Dom and Mik, please come out safely with everyone else, and may the spirits protect you." Thirteen-year-old Nuttawut Pongtui was a bit more impatient.

NUTTAWUT PONGTUI: (Speaking Thai).

SULLIVAN: "Dom and Mik, stay safe. And I hope everyone else stays safe, too," he said. "And if you can come out today, please do." For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan at the Tham Luang cave complex, Chiang Rai, Thailand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABAKUS'S "HOPE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.