After a miraculous second chance at life, Duangphet Phromthep, the 17-year-old captain of a boys soccer team who was famously rescued from a Thai cave in 2018, died Tuesday in England.
Five years ago, Phromthep and 11 other boys from the Wild Boars soccer team aged from 11 to 16 at the time, became trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system with their 25-year-old coach, Ekkaphon Kanthawong. The group were trapped when heavy rain flooded the cave’s entrance before a lengthy rescue process that captivated the world’s attention saved their lives.
These rescue efforts were the focus of a number of documentaries and adaptations over the years, with both a six-part Netflix series and an Amazon feature movie released last year.
Phromthep, known to friends as Dom, moved to England last year to undertake a soccer scholarship at Brooke House College Football Academy in Leicestershire, England. He was discovered unconscious in his room at the academy and later died in hospital.
“We are waiting for his body to return,” said Phromthep’s mother, Thanaporn Duangthep, at a virtual news conference from the town Mae Sai, in northern Thailand, the New York Times reported. She said that at least her son’s sporting dreams came true before he died.
Below, what to know about Duangphet Phromthep’s short life and death.
Read More: Netflix’s Authentic Thai Cave Rescue and the True Story Filmmakers Can’t Stop Retelling
What is Duangphet Phromthep’s cause of death?
While Phromthep’s cause of death has not been confirmed, local police in Leicestershire said the death is not being treated as suspicious. Meanwhile, the northern regional branch of the Thai government’s public relations arm said on Facebook that Phromthep died as a result of an accident. No further details were provided.
Kiatisuk “Zico” Senamuang, the founder of Zico Foundation—which facilitated Phromthep’s soccer scholarship—told reporters Wednesday that the boy was generally believed to be in good health but a teacher found the student unconscious in his dorm room Sunday afternoon.
He was rushed to hospital and remained in critical condition but later died after becoming unresponsive.
Brooke House College Football Academy’s principal Ian Smith said in a statement on Wednesday that Phromthep’s death has left the community shaken: “We unite in grief with all of Dom’s family, friends, former teammates and those involved in all parts of his life, as well as everyone affected in any way by this loss in Thailand and throughout the college’s global family.”
The school said they are also in “constant liaison” with the Thai embassy in London.
In a news conference, Phromthep’s mother said she hoped a Buddhist monk in England will conduct funeral rites for him so his spirit is not trapped where he died, as stipulated in Buddhist beliefs, the Associated Press reported.
Why did Phromthep move to England in 2022?
Phromthep fulfilled a personal ambition last summer when he earned a scholarship to study at Brooke House College Football Academy. Phromthep described the achievement as a “dream come true” on Instagram at the time.
The scholarship was in conjunction with the Zico foundation, which was founded by Senamuang to develop soccer skills among children in rural Thailand. Phromthep thanked the foundation for the opportunity and promised to do his best.
The sports school welcomes students aged 11 to 19 from all backgrounds and touts itself as a pipeline to a professional soccer career. Twenty-one alumni players have progressed to the professional level.
Kanthawong—the coach who was trapped alongside the boy in 2018—wrote on Facebook that he had been waiting all day for a miracle since hearing of Phromthep’s condition.
“Didn’t you ask me to cheer you once you’re in the national league? Why did you break the promise? Didn’t we make all the plans when you come back to play football and go cycling with us?” Kanthawong wrote of his late friend. “Since you were young, you kept saying that you wanted to play in the national league. Why didn’t you do as you said?”
What happened during the Thai cave rescue?
On June 13, 2018, the group of 12 boys and their coach set out after soccer practice to explore the cave system located in the Chiang Rai Province in northern Thailand, which has now become a tourist site.
When they were ready to exit the cave, they found the entrance had flooded and they were stuck. Speaking to ABC News in the aftermath of their rescue, Kanthawong said he volunteered to dive using a rope they were carrying, to see if they could pass through the entrance. He reportedly asked three of the boys to hold the rope while he unsuccessfully plotted their potential escape.
Kanthawong said that he and the boys turned to prayer and meditation, reciting the mantra “su su,” or “keep fighting,” in Thai. They also drank water from stalactites—icicles that hang from cave ceilings—to stay alive.
On July 2, two British divers John Volanthen and Rick Stanton, located the trapped group during a rescue mission coordinated by the Thai authorities involving many other expert rescuers. The team navigated 2.5km of constricted underwater passageways and successfully saved all 13 lives.
One rescuer died during the mission, and a Thai navy SEAL died later from a blood infection.
What about the Netflix series and Amazon film?
The dramatic true story, with a rare happy ending, has been a popular subject for films and television shows over the years, both nonfiction and fiction.
In August, Amazon’s Thirteen Lives, directed by Ron Howard, dramatized the 18-day search-and-rescue operation. Just one month later, Netflix released its own six-episode miniseries, Thai Cave Rescue, directed by Kevin Tancharoen and Nattawut Poonpiriya.
The story was also the subject of Tom Waller’s 2019 Thai action-drama The Cave, which used a mix of reconstructions and news footage to recount the story. The film stars diver Jim Warny, who participated in the rescue effort, as himself.
National Geographic also released the 2021 documentary The Rescue, which chronicles the Thai Navy SEALs efforts in the mission.
Phromthep’s death on Tuesday shatters that happiest of endings.
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