Thai boys rescued from cave alive because they didn't panic - expert

The 12 Thai boys and their football coach rescued from Tham Luang cave Tuesday night are being praised for their ability to stay calm while divers guided them out to safety. 

Thailand was transformed into a nation of celebration after authorities confirmed that all members of the Wild Boar football team and their 25-year-old coach had been pulled from the cave in northern Thailand. 

The boys' extraordinary survival comes down to one thing, according to a diving expert: they didn't panic. Robert Laird, the co-founder of International Underwater Cave Rescue and Recovery, told the Atlantic diving in caves is a big step up from diving at sea. 

"Cave diving is a different beast from diving in the open waters. The water can be so muddy that divers have to feel their way out. The passage can be so narrow that you have to take off your oxygen tank. And you cannot simply swim up to safety," he said. 

It was crucial the boys could trust their diver rescuers otherwise they might've panicked during the journey out of the cave, which could have had catastrophic consequences. When someone panics while cave diving, there's "absolutely no logic" Mr Laid says. 

"It can start with a small thing, like suddenly you see bubbles coming off a hose. That seems so trivial and minor but that can immediately put doubt in a mind because you're in a cave. There's no escape."

Child psychologist Dr Emma Woodward told The Project the boys will be changed by the experience "without a doubt". She said the boys would have had to be able to place a huge amount of trust in their rescuers to keep them safe until they saw their families again.

Diver Ivan Karadzic, part of the Thai rescue team, told BBC it's "not in any way normal for kids to go cave diving at age 11," referring to the youngest member of the group, among his peers who are aged from 11 to 16. 

He said the boys dived in conditions considered to be "extremely hazardous" in "zero visibility". The only light source the groups had navigating through the caves was torches - otherwise their surroundings would have been pitch-black. 

 "We were obviously very afraid of any kind of panic from the divers," Mr Karadzic said. "Then there is multiple equipment malfunction as you can imagine."

To prepare for this, the divers had a contingency plan made in place for what to do if something went wrong. The fact the boys had been tapped in a small cave for two weeks and were still able to make it out is a testament to their strength and will to survive, Mr Karadzic said. 

Simon Mitchell, an anaesthesiologist at Auckland City Hospital, told Radio New Zealand the rescue of all 12 boys and their coach is an "extraordinary achievement". 

But people shouldn't forget that someone died during the rescue efforts, he said. Samarn Kunan, a 38-year-old former Thai Navy SEAL, ran out of oxygen while attempting to return to a command centre around 2km inside the cave system. 

His death highlights the high stakes involved with cave diving. 

It was a terrible tragedy, Mr Mitchell said. But overall, the rescue mission has succeeded exceptionally well. 


Contact Newshub with your story tips: