Twelve boys rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand shed tears as they paid tribute to a diver who died during the rescue mission.
The “Wild Boars” football team are recovering in hospital after spending 18 days in Tham Luang cave, where they were trapped by monsoon floodwaters on 23 June.
Doctors say they are in good health following a successful three-day rescue operation which ended when teams of Thai navy SEALs and international cave diving experts hauled the last five members of the team and their coach to safety.
But tragedy struck during the final phase of the mission when volunteer diver and former Navy SEAL Saman Kunan died while installing oxygen tanks along the passageways of the cave.
He was widely hailed as a hero but the boys, aged 11 to 16, have only just been told about his death after a medical team said they were now mentally strong enough to handle the news.
The Thailand health ministry said in a statement that the boys were upset when told what happened.
It said: “All cried and expressed their condolences by writing messages on a drawing of Lieutenant Commander Saman and observed one minute of silence for him.”
Photos released by the health ministry show the youngsters crowded around a sketch of Mr Saman writing messages on it and bowing their heads in commemoration.
The statement added: “They also thanked him and promised to be good boys.”
Tributes from Thailand and around the world have poured in for Mr Saman, a triathlete and diver who retired from the military in 2006.
He worked at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport before volunteering to help with the rescue in northern Thailand.
Specialists who took part in the operation have expressed surprise that the boys were all rescued, with some fearing that there could have been more casualties.
The boys, who were located by two British divers, were sedated and carried through waterlogged and partially dry corridors with the help of military stretchers and almost 100 divers.
Health officials say the boys recovered from their ordeal quickly and all are expected to leave hospital on Thursday.
The health ministry said their conditions were normal, although many are still on antibiotics.
However, experts say they will all need to be monitored closely for signs of psychological distress that may take months to affect them.