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Thai Cave Rescue’s Joyful Ending Shattered by Duangpetch Promthep’s Death.

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The sudden death of Duangpetch ‘Dom’ Promthep, who had proudly won a scholarship at a football academy in Britain, still remains a mystery. This unfortunate event casts a sad shadow over a story that had, until now, continued to inspire and uplift spirits.

The Thai cave rescue was an astonishing saga that captured the world’s attention in July 2018. It was one of the rare news stories that had an almost flawlessly happy ending. When the news of the missing Thai footballers first broke, I and my colleagues rushed up to Chiang Rai and then to the entrance of the Tham Luang cave complex, with just three days of clothes.

At that point, I had assumed that few people around the world would care for long, and that the boys would either be found or not. However, it turned out to be quite a misjudgement on my part, and as we waited outside the cave in mud-soaked conditions, my packing decision didn’t seem like such a great idea.

Five days later, with no indication of whether the boys were alive or where they might be, Thai rescuers were driven out of the cave by rising floodwaters, and I was interviewed by a Thai television team. I was too emotional to respond, as the boys were almost the same age as my two sons. Dom was only 12 days older than my eldest. Reporting about them day and night, and seeing their bikes still chained to the railings by the cave, they had become very precious lives.

Against all odds, we hoped that they might still be alive. And then, the miraculous moment when British divers John Volanthen and Rick Stanton found them, calling out in the dark, “how many are you? Thirteen? Brilliant.”

The journalists at the cave site multiplied quickly, far more than it could accommodate. But we knew getting the boys out would be a difficult task. In fact, the divers had told the Thai government that getting even half of them out alive should be considered a success.

The Thai authorities had pushed for a zero-risk option, leaving the boys there until the monsoon rains stopped four months later, despite being warned that this was a near-certain death sentence. However, their lives had become too precious, and eventually, they went for the high-risk, improvised rescue plan. Watching the boys and their coach being brought out, heavily sedated, one by one over three days, it seemed impossible that they had all survived. But they did.

Within days, they were charming the world in their first appearance before the media, smiling, joking, and knocking footballs around. The Thai government took control at that point, leading the lucrative negotiations with Hollywood filmmakers and organizing overseas trips. Yet, none of that ever spoiled them.

They remained small-town boys with a few big dreams – polite, grateful for the effort so many had made to save them, and for the new opportunities their story had brought them to travel and study, but always refreshingly down-to-earth. Even the fear that fame would inevitably tarnish the fairy tale proved unfounded.

When Dom won the scholarship to go to Britain last year, he thanked Zico, the former Thai national team captain who had arranged it, and promised to study hard there. “I will do my level best,” he wrote. No one who watched him and his teammates dealing so modestly with all the attention that came their way can doubt that he would have lived up to that promise. The tragedy of his sudden passing is a sad reminder that life is unpredictable and that we should cherish every moment.

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