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expert reaction to some of the Thai school children being rescued from the cave

Four out of twelve boys have been rescued from a waterlogged cave in Thailand. The mission to free the other boys and their football coach is still underway.


Dr James Baldini, Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Durham, said:

“It’s difficult to overstate the dangers inherent in any cave rescue involving diving, and these are obviously amplified if the people needing rescue are children who cannot swim. The rescuers have done an amazing job of rescuing four of the boys, but with more rain forecast for the next few days the window for further extractions is closing.”


Dr Lisa Baldini, Department of Geography at the University of Durham, said:

What are the risks with the forecasted rains? 

“Rain will infiltrate via a network of fractures and cracks in the limestone causing the water level in the cave to rise quite quickly. This is the reason for the urgency of the rescue operation now.”

Regarding the floodwaters and moving through them…

“Because of the narrow passages, the current can become very strong very quickly, making it extremely difficult to maintain your footing as you move through the water. The sound of the water is also quite intimidating because the cave walls act as an echo chamber. It can, at times, be difficult to communicate to the person beside you because of the noise. The other difficulty is the murkiness of the water. As the divers move through the stream, they kick up clay sediment which can bring the visibility to zero. The lack of visibility is one of the greatest risks when it comes to cave diving and is the reason that divers can become disorientated or their equipment can become snagged on cave formations.”


Dr Jennifer Wild, Associate Professor & Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Oxford Centre for Anxiety Disorders & Trauma, University of Oxford, said:

‘It’s incredible that 4 of the 12 boys are now out.  They faced grueling conditions and a long journey to safety.  But their journey is not over yet.  Their friends and coach remain in the cave and they may feel unsettled until all are brought to safety.’

‘It will be important for the boys who remain in the cave to focus on how they are being helped, that there is a rescue operation in place and that there are steps to retrieve them from the cave.’

‘Once the boys are out if they can view the ordeal as an unusual adventure rather than dwelling on how the event could have cost their lives, they will be more likely to have a good emotional outcome.  If they focus and dwell on what could have happened, they’ll have a harder time emotionally. Dwelling on past events is a predictor of PTSD. It’s important that the boys focus on the facts when they are out rather than on what could have happened.’

‘Post-traumatic stress disorder after an ordeal such as this is not a fait accompli.  Most people do not develop PTSD after trauma.  As long as the boys can focus on the facts of what happened – that they survived, the rescue mission is in place and well organized and that they achieved an exit from a very deep cave, they’ll likely have a good emotional prognosis.’

‘It’s possible after an ordeal such as this that similar cues will bring back feelings or memories from the trauma.  The kinds of reminders we would expect to be potentially problematic would be being in the dark, being in rooms when the doors are closed, having a scan such as an MRI and possibly swimming.’

‘In the weeks after an ordeal such as this, it is common for people to have unwanted memories, feelings and flashbacks to the trauma. These clear up for most people within a month. But if they are very severe or last longer than a month, then a psychological intervention such as trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy is recommended.’


Declared interests

None received.

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