Race against the rain for trapped Thai boys

Soldiering on: Two British rescue divers first made contact with the boys on Monday.

What makes the story so compelling? For almost two weeks, 12 children have been trapped underground in a Thai cave. But as monsoon rains approach, the rescue operation hangs in the balance.

“We [were] racing against time before we found them,” said a Thai spokesperson yesterday — “Now we are racing against water.”

On June 23, a group of boys and their football coach ventured deep into Thailand’s Tham Luang cave complex. But a sudden deluge of rain flooded the tunnels and cut them off. For days they have taken refuge on small rocky ledge, unable to escape.

Divers have made contact, but more rain is forecast. And if the water level rises much higher, they could be imprisoned for months.

How can they escape? One option is to scuba dive to safety. Rescuers have given the boys diving lessons, however many of them cannot swim. Teams have also been pumping away the floodwater, and some suggest drilling a hole and airlifting them out.

While rescue efforts continue, perils remain: from falling rocks to hypothermia and exhaustion.

There are also psychological dangers. Science journalist Linda Geddes claims the entrapment and absence of sunlight “could put them at risk of depression, insomnia, and potentially create discord within the group.”

But support has surged in from around the world. One message came from Omar Reygadas — one of the Chilean miners who was trapped underground for 69 days in 2010. “They shouldn’t be ashamed to be scared,” he said: “Our tears also ran. Even as adult men, we cried.”

Like the boys, the plight of Chile’s miners became a media sensation; their story turned into a Hollywood movie.

Blending true and fictional elements, extreme survival films like The Revenant, Cast Away, and 127 Hours often make deep impressions on our psyche.

Why? Some point to evolutionary psychology. For our ancient ancestors, telling survival stories would have helped listeners live longer themselves. A dramatic tale of a man escaping a bloodthirsty lion is more memorable than the simple instruction “lions are dangerous”.

But now most of us do not have to worry about dangerous animals or navigating labyrinthine caves.

So why is the story of the Thai boys so gripping?

Trapped

It is about empathy, some argue. We put ourselves in the boys’ shoes and cannot help but wonder how we would cope in the same situation. This empathy leads to compassion. People become invested in the story because they desperately want the boys to live — such is the fellow feeling at the heart of human nature.

It is more about self-reflection, others respond. We spend most of our waking lives on autopilot, chasing money and following routines. A survival story like this reminds us that life is fragile — making us grateful for the relationships and experiences we have right now. It is a strange thought, but hearing of others in peril makes us all feel a little more alive.

You Decide

  1. Why do we enjoy listening to or watching stories of extreme survival?
  2. Do humans have enough respect for the power of nature?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are in the place of one of the boys. Write a diary entry of your experiences in the cave. You could pick a particular day over the last two weeks: for example, when they first became trapped, or when the rescue divers arrived. Include lots of descriptive language. What can you see, smell, touch, taste and hear?
  2. Do some research into the different rescue options that officials are discussing. Write a list of the pros and cons of each option. In you opinion, which gives the best chance of success, why?

Some People Say...

“Survival can be summed up in three words — never give up.”

Bear Grylls

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
All of the boys are aged between 11 and 16, and none of them are currently facing life-threatening medical issues. In order to improve morale, officials are threading a fibre-optic cable through the cave to allow them to talk to family members. Rescuers face 11-hour round trips to visit the group — six hours there, and five to return.
What do we not know?
How long the boys will be trapped in the cave. The Thai military have stated that if they are unable to dive out, the group may have to wait four months for the flood waters to recede. We also do not know what effect the weather will have on the situation. Lots of rain could flood the chamber in which the group is currently taking cover. If the rain holds off they may be able to walk and swim to safety without diving.

Word Watch

Deep
The group are approximately four kilometres from the entrance of the cave. It takes professional divers around five hours to journey back from their location.
Airlifting
“It sounds easy but it’s actually very difficult,” said one rescuer — “It’s a needle in a haystack problem.”
Exhaustion
A doctor’s report highlighted that two of the boys and the coach are suffering from malnutrition and exhaustion.
Chilean miners
Thirty-three men were trapped 700 metres underground after a cave-in at the San José Mine. They were rescued after 69 days.
Movie
Called The 33, it was released in 2015 and stars Antonio Banderas.
Evolutionary psychology
A theoretical approach in the social and natural sciences that studies how psychological traits like memory, perception and language contribute to the process of evolution.
More memorable
Professor Jennifer Aaker claims that people remember information when it is part of a narrative “up to 22 times more than facts alone.”