CHIANG RAI – The bronze statue of Lt-Commander Samarn Gunan, the former Navy SEAL who died in the dramatic operation to rescue young footballers from Tham Luang cave in July, has been installed in front of the cave.
The memorial to Lt. Com Gunan, was paraded through the streets of Mueang Chiang Rai on Thursday before being installed at Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park at a memorial pavilion that had been set up earlier this year.
Gunan, also known as Ja Sam, died on July 6 during the rescue mission as he was laying oxygen tanks along a possible exit route in the cave and ran out of air.
SEAL commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew said, Gunan, was working as a volunteer, passed out underwater during an overnight mission placing extra air tanks inside the cave, along the route divers use to reach the cavern where the 12 boys and their coach remain stranded and the oxygen in the air is depleting.
He passed out while underwater and couldn’t be resuscitated and was confirmed dead early that morning,
His death raised concerns during the rescue mission about having several boys and the soccer coach, most of whom did not know how to swim, dive through a network of cave tunnels to escape.
The training the team received from the Thai Navy did appear to be enough as close to three weeks after becoming trapped — which occurred when they entered the cave and it flooded with them still inside — the boys escaped the cave.
A few days after the rescue concluded, a funeral was held for Gunan with hundreds of members of the public turning out to his funeral with full honours.
Members of the boys soccer team, the Wild Boars, also paid respect to Gunan with photos released by the Thai Public Health Ministry on July 14 showing the young men bowing their heads in prayer while they were still in hospital with a drawing of the diver on the table in front of them.
Gunan’s statue shows him in his diving equipment with what appears to be a smile on his face and his goggles around his neck. He is draped in garlands with flowers around him and 13 boars below him, in reference to the soccer team and coach.
The 12 Wild Boars and their football coach and hundreds of members of the public led by national artist Chalermchai Kositpipat joined the parade to move the statue to a memorial pavilion in front of the cave.
Large crowds of people gathered along the route to honor Ja Sam.
Chalermchai Kositpipat, the artist who made the statue, told the Chiang Rai Times that there was not going to be any specific ceremony held to install the statue as the cave is “currently undergoing renovation.”
He also said one of two paintings depicting the rescue operation had been put in place in the pavilion outside the cave, but still needs four to five days to add finishing touches to the whole memorial.
Kositpipat said he wanted to thank all those who made it possible for the project to come together, which is not only for Gunan but all those who helped in the rescue effort.
The memorial pavilion is not yet open for viewing, but the statue can still be seen from outside.