How to survive four months in a cave

At this point it's likely that 12 children and their football coach are going to be stuck in a small cave for several months.

The Wild Boar team became stranded on a ledge in the Tham Luang cave 4km inside a mountain in northern Thailand on June 23.

There were jubilant scenes when the missing children were discovered - but now rescue teams face a race against the clock.

There are three evacuation methods that could retrieve the boys, and Thai authorities are currently trying what's considered their best option: frantically draining water from the stretch of caves so that the boys can be evacuated before monsoon season floods the area further.

None of the young athletes - who are aged between 11 and 16 - can swim or dive, so rescuers are trying to lower the water level enough that they can wade out to safety.

Drilling an escape hatch from above is another possibility, but has been called "fraught with danger" and potentially undoable before the heavy rain hits the mountain. It's also believed there's an 'air line' above the boys, explaining how they haven't run out of oxygen, and this could be a safer way for them to escape.

Their third option is simply to leave the boys where they are and wait out Thailand's monsoon season, which could last from July until October.

The young footballers are trapped in the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand.
The young footballers are trapped in the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand. Photo credit: Newshub.

So if worst comes to worst, how will 12 boys in their tweens and teens survive four months in a cramped cave?

The basics: Food, water and medicine 

Navy SEAL divers have been taking food to the boys, consisting of "easily digested and high-powered food with enough minerals". This will include high-calorie gels, which are often given to people recovering from surgery who are unable to keep solid food down.

Hopefully the boys will be able to eat real food as well, or those four months are going to seem even longer. 

They'll also need water, as the pesticides from nearby rice paddy fields have made the cave water undrinkable.

Rescue teams have delivered medicine to the boys to treat infection, which damp conditions and poor sanitation could exacerbate. They'll need to try to stay as active as they can within the space they have, or their bones may start to atrophy from a lack of use.

But aside from their physical safety, what toll might such a long confinement take on the boys' mental health?

It's a long, winding journey through narrow passageways to reach the stranded boys.
It's a long, winding journey through narrow passageways to reach the stranded boys. Photo credit: Newshub.

Staying sane while trapped

In 2010, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine for 69 days. The mental health specialists who helped the miners endure and recover from their ordeal told CNN that the young football team is potentially in for a worse time.

"They're not prepared for confined environments," says Dr Jean Christophe Romagnoli.

"The thing about the miners that's different is that they were a crew of people who were used to working in confined places."

However he says the sense of camaraderie from being in a team could be of enormous benefit to the boys, who will be used to spending time with and supporting one another - meaning they can (hopefully) avoid a Lord of the Flies situation.

Psychologist Alberto Iturra Benavides says in order to be able to tolerate months trapped in the cave, the boys need to be able to think of it as an adventure.

"The kids don't need to know about the challenges the adults and the country are going through."

Boredom - the silent killer

Claustrophobia and boredom will be the big issues to overcome for the youngsters. They'll need to keep their minds occupied, so sending them packs of cards would be a good move - provided the light source they've been given is enough to see by.

The Chilean miners were eventually supplied with the technology to set up a projector showing a live feed of football games, which the young Thai players would probably appreciate as well.

Music can also be a great tool for staving off boredom - but only if it's played for everyone, says Mr Benavides.

"They should listen to music as a group - no headphones, just speakers," he told CNN.

"We had a large crisis due to someone who, acting out of good will, sent down individual audio equipment. It led to disinterest and disunity in our case."

None of the boys can swim, so diving their way to freedom is an unlikely prospect.
None of the boys can swim, so diving their way to freedom is an unlikely prospect. Photo credit: Newshub.

Homesickness will be another hurdle for the kids. There are plans to run a communications line into the cave so that the boys can speak to their parents, potentially with video.

Just to make things even more nightmarish, the cave is also home to large spiders which scuttle along the walls and floor. Any arachnophobes in the group will be undergoing a long exposure therapy programme, voluntarily or not.

Thai authorities say they've reduced water levels enough for rescuers to wade into the third cave chamber from the entrance. Hopefully they can work quickly enough to get all thirteen trapped people out before the rains start.

But if not, these kids are in for a rough time - and they'll have to grow up quickly in order to survive.


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