Saman Kunan or Saman Gunan (Thai: สมาน กุนัน): A Navy SEAL hero

In 2018, Saman Gunan died taking air to a dozen starving kids and their 25-year-old football coach in a Thai cave.

Gunan joined the heroic cause of the boys’ rescue for his past as a Thai Navy SEALs Petty Officer. In particular, he was taking air tanks to 13 young souls, whom a sudden flood had trapped in Tham Luang. But his tragic death underlines the thick of it – little oxygen in the cave – as he died for a blackout. Gunan swam the roughest waters and tried to defy all odds to save 13 young lives, so is a hero.

The man within the hero

Picture two sharks biting, tearing off chunks from your body – I’m just describing the Royal Thai Navy SEAL emblem. Indeed, SEALs (SEa – Air – Land troops) are as tough as they say. Gunan (also spelled Kunan) was one of these highly skilled and disciplined men.

Gunan entered class 30 of the Royal Thai Navy SEALs. He received a multitude of training – including diving. It was just one of the triphibian SEAL specialties. Besides, the rigorous training spans battle and fighting: synchronized firing, terror raids and guerilla warfare. In 2006, Gunan left the SEALs as a Petty Officer 1st class. Later, he began working in security at the Suvarnabhumi Airport, Samut Prakan. He was working here when the cave rescue became a call to action for skilled divers like him. Saman “Sam” Gunan was also a keen triathlete, which goes hand-in-hand with his past. Valepon Gunan, his wife, survives the lost hero.

Picking up a call of duty

Eager to explore, a group of teens aged 11-16 entered the Tham Luang cave system on June 23, 2018. They had their coach with them – he was 25.

But Death does not make a reservation. Neither do the forces of the Almighty that swirl the winds and intensify the wrath of the sun around us. Soon, a heavy downpour took entire cave with water gushing in from all sides. The boys had no way out: the rain had blocked the safe way back. They remained perched on top of a dry rocky slab amid sure perils. Luckily, their situation became known – not just in Thailand – but worldwide, and groups rushed to the scene. Maybe this wasn’t the job for an Airport security worker, but Gunan’s SEAL background made his help valuable. He gave a prompt response to the call of duty; and so moments later, he was delivering air tanks.

For a cause greater than man

The thing to understand here: There was no law forcing this man go inside that grotto. Rather, Gunan was a Samaritan ready to lend his skills for the rescue.

Even the professional cave divers said this is some of the sketchiest diving they’ve ever done. Nova documentary on the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue
There were myriad skills at the cave: veteran cavers who had studied the cave well, army men, and reporters. But none could have brought the boys to safety without the talented cave divers who led the rescue. The divers were at the front: they found the boys; supplied air, water, and food; and eventually brought them out. Gunan was part of the globally enriched rescue team. More specifically, he was a supply diver braving the waters to get the most valuable resource to the boys – oxygen. Their efforts saw success, and authorities nearly made the decision to keep the boys nourished down there for 4 months. But then, a new danger struck: they couldn’t breathe.

Cheery Saman Gunan’s painful last journey

Conditions in the cave – below ground – were similar to a mountain peak: a breath became a luxury. For this, the world now had limited time to save these boys.

On 5 July, our hero was making a trip from Chamber 3 to the T Junction. It was close to Pattaya Beach, where the boys were. He made the delivery of 3 air tanks. But on the way back, he blacked out – the cave’s nasty terrors at play. Then, his dive buddy tried to get him back to no avail. So, he carried his body back to Chamber 3, where they had started. Again, they tried CPR. Gunan wasn’t responding. They declared him dead in the afternoon of July 6, 2018, the next day.

Gunan will live on in songbirds’ songs

In short, Saman Gunan is our inspiration and his memory radiates positive energy. After all, fruits of global efforts came in the form of divers bringing the Wild Boars back home by 10 July.

Following his brave act, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Navy promoted him up seven ranks. This unprecedented rise in ranks made him Lieutenant Commander. Besides, Thai King Vajiralongkorn sponsored his funeral, and honored him, visiting it on 14 July with the royal family. Also, the Thai King awarded him the Knight Grand Cross (first class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant. A prospective statue of him will uplift a fresh tourist destination at the site. We will remember you.

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