Thailand mourns governor who supervised cave rescue


Late June, Thais across the Kingdom mourned the passing of a national hero – the former governor who supervised the daring and dangerous rescue of 13 young footballers from a flooded cave in northern Thailand almost exactly five years ago.

Narongsak Osotthanakorn, the former Governor of Chiang Rai, the northernmost province in the Kingdom where the Tham Luang cave is located, passed away from cancer at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok last Wednesday at the age of 58.

Narongsak was known for a “scrupulous and no-nonsense approach” to his work and stood against suspected corruption in various projects. He applied that approach in organizing the response when in 2018 the 12 students of the Wild Boars football team and their coach were trapped deep below ground and cut off by a sudden surge of water from a flash flood.

Ultimately, with help from thousands of Thai volunteer rescue workers, special forces members, international and local cave divers, and medical and other experts from countries around the world, all 13 of those trapped were brought to safety. One Thai special forces member, however, perished in operation.

When the Asia Society decided to give its Asia Game Changer Award to “The Rescue Team at the Tham Luang Caves,” it invited Narongsak to New York to accept it. The then Governor said that he hoped what happened would lead to more people doing good deeds in the future.

“The mission was conducted without regard for race or nationality, and it united humanity as a whole,” said Narongsak in accepting the award.

Robert Godec, the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, offered his sympathies to the governor’s family and all Thais upon learning of the news, “My deep condolences to Governor Nanongsak’s family, friends and colleagues. I recently visited Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai and was deeply moved by the stories of his leadership when he managed the international cooperative effort that led to the successful rescue of the Wild Boars team.”

“His legacy will continue as we continue to work together to respond to crises and tackle humanitarian challenges with a collaborative spirit,” added Godec.