Hero diver says 'life is cruel' after rescued footballer dies

British diver who rescued footballer trapped in Thai cave for 18 days said ‘life is cruel’ after 17-year-old died of ‘head injury’

  • Duangpetch Promthep was among the 12 boys trapped in the cave in 2018
  • The cause of death is unclear but reports say Dom sustained a head injury
  • Rescuer Vernon Unsworth said ‘life is cruel’ for taking Dom at a ‘very young age’

A British diver who aided in the rescue of a young football team trapped in a Thai cave five years ago has paid tribute to the survivor who unexpectedly died this week.

Duangphet Promthep, 17, died in the UK on Tuesday after he reportedly suffered a ‘head injury’ and was found unconscious over the weekend.

The teen, nicknamed Dom, was one of the 12 boys rescued from the flooded Tham Luang cave system in northern Thailand in 2018. They were trapped for 18 days.

Cave explorer Vernon Unsworth, who was a member of Dom’s rescue team, said ‘life is cruel’ after learning that the athlete had died at a ‘very young age.’

Duangphet Promthep, 17, died in the UK on Tuesday after he reportedly suffered a ‘head injury’ and was found unconscious over the weekend 

Cave explorer Vernon Unsworth, who was a member of diving team that rescued Dom and his football team in 2018, has paid tribute to the young athlete, saying: ‘Life is cruel.’ Mr Unsworth is pictured in the Tham Luang caves

Duangpetch Promthep was among the 12 young football players on the Wild Boars team who became trapped by rising floodwaters for two weeks. Promthep (circled) is pictured with members of his Wild Boar football team following the rescue

‘The sad thing is he was given the opportunity he wanted in life and now his life has suddenly been taken away,’ Mr Unsworth told The New York Times.

He added: ‘Life is cruel.’

Mr Unsworth, joined by fellow British divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, helped rescue the Wild Boars football team after they were trapped in the flooded cave for 18 days by sudden rainfall.

In a complicated multi-day operation, all 12 members of the team, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old assistant coach were rescued.

Dom was found on the floor of his dormitory in Leicestershire on Sunday following an ‘accident’. He died after being rushed to hospital.

At the time of his death, the former Wild Boars captain was studying at Brooke House College Football Academy in Market Harborough. 

Mr Stanton, who was the lead diver on the 2018 rescue mission, is also said to be shocked by Dom’s passing.

He told CNN yesterday: ‘It was Dom whose unconscious body I swam with as I escorted him to safety on the second day of the rescue mission.

‘I carefully held his precious life in my grasp, bearing the full weight of responsibility towards his survival through the most extreme of circumstances.’

He noted that the rest of the rescue team has been notified of Dom’s death. 

Duangpetch Promthep (pictured centre) was among the 12 young football players on the Wild Boars team who became trapped by rising floodwaters for two weeks

Last year Promthep celebrated his first Christmas in the UK after moving to enroll at a Leicester football academy 

Thai Navy soldiers in the flooded Tham Luang cave during rescue operations for the 12 boys

Kiatisuk Senamuang, former Thai national football team coach and chairman of the Zico Foundation which sponsored the gifted young footballer, described himself as ‘shocked and stunned’ at the news of the young man’s sudden death.

He said Promthep was found laid down unconscious on the ground in his room in the academy’s dormitory and was immediately taken to hospital.

Mr Senamuang, known, as Coach Zico, said that Dom had been hospitalized for a few days and passed away on Tuesday.



So far, the cause of death is unclear and there was no witness to what happened and hospital tests are still awaited.

‘My thoughts are with his family and friends,’ said Zico. ‘I think back to his dream of becoming a professional footballer, representing his country and his voice keeps speaking in my head’ he said, choking back tears.

Asked if Dom had any health issues earlier, the coach said he was very healthy and a full health check had been carried out to obtain his student visa.

The news came as his mother made a heartfelt plea for his ‘body and soul’ to be brought back to Thailand after his mysterious death at a football academy in the UK.

Meanwhile, social media accounts of Dom’s friends and family were full of tributes to the boy whose image captured the nation’s hearts as he and his team survived their ordeal.

The massive successful international effort to bring them out alive, spearheaded by expert British cave divers, was portrayed recently in the gripping Hollywood movie starring Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen.

Dom had been accepted on a football scholarship to an academy in Leicestershire and had passed a full health check as part of the visa process, it was revealed.

Promthep was filmed smiling at the camera of the rescue team after he and his team waited for 18 days in the darkness of the cave

Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton and Viggo Mortensen in a scene from ‘Thirteen Lives’

At the time of his death, Dom was studying at Brooke House College in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, on a scholarship

Promthep (pictured with his father) promised he would ‘study hard’ in the UK

Brooke House College has said it is ‘devastated’ by the loss of Promthep

Promthep shared several snaps taken whilst enrolled at the football academy 

The teenager also shared pictures of him working hard in lessons in between his football training

Promthep also shared with his followers his love for traditional English fry ups 

Promthep (centre) pictured on a trip to London Bridge last year after moving to the UK

Meanwhile, Dom’s mother Thanaporn Promthep, made a moving appeal for help bringing back her beloved son’s body and for help organizing a Buddhist ritual in the UK to ensure his soul was also brought back to Thailand.

Who is Vernon Unsworth and where is he now?: Brit diver who rescued 12 Thai boys and was called ‘pedo’ by Elon Musk


‘Our family is not rich and recently he was our main breadwinner. Please help us bring his body back,’ said his mother.

Mr Senamuang insisted he would do his best to help and offered moral support to Dom’s mother and her family, saying ‘Please be strong mother’. He added that Dom was a good boy everyone loves him.

‘Our family knows that everyone in the foundation loves Dom and he was loved by Coach Zico like his own son’ said Mrs Promthep.

On his Facebook page, coach Zico wrote: ‘Rest in peace, you were my lovely student, polite and gentleman, generous, had a dream to become a professional footballer playing for national team, had a good technique and ready to learn, were a fast learner. I would love to see your dream future but…���� RIP Dom.’

The former monk who was the boy’s coach, also trapped in the cave, Eakapol Chantawong, aka Coach Eak, said on his Facebook page: ‘Dom, you will be in our memory forever. 

‘You will be a model to the junior in our team as a fighter who never give up in a path of football. May your soul rest in peace Dom Duangpetch Phromthep, one of the former 13 members of Wild Boars team.’

Former team-mate Phiphat Phothi, aka Nick, another of the Wild Boars, said simply: ‘RIP Dom, your future was bright. You will be in my memory forever’.

East Midlands Ambulance Service said in a statement: ‘We received a call at 12.48pm on Sunday 12 February to a private address in Market Harborough.

‘The caller reported a medical emergency. We sent three paramedics in ambulance cars, a crewed ambulance and the air ambulance was also in attendance.

‘We transported one patient via land ambulance to Kettering General Hospital.’

Promthep was invited to the British embassy in Bangok by Deputy Ambassador Mr Dave Thomas after receiving his football scholarship

The football-mad teenager described it as a ‘dream’ to move to the UK and study

He wrote: ‘Today my dream came true. I’m going to be a football student in England’

Promthep and his team’s rescue from the cave system is still a topic of national interest. 

A pool known as the Emerald Pool, where water from the cave rescue was pumped, and a statue of a former Thai Navy Seal who tragically died during the three-week rescue operation has been promoted as tourist attractions by the Chiang Rai provincial public relations office.

Saman Kunan, the 37-year-old former Thai Navy Seal, died of asphyxiation during the rescue operation while delivering oxygen to the trapped football team. 

The story of the Wild Boars, which was covered intensely by international media, has been retold in several movies, including Ron Howard’s 2022 feature film Thirteen Lives and the 2021 documentary The Rescue.

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