Trapped in Thai cave, youngsters must grapple with stress


MAE SAI, Thailand (AP) — At a gilded temple in Thailand's mountainous north, Ekapol Chanthawong honed a skill that will serve him well as he sits trapped underground in a dark cave: meditation.

Before the 25-year-old was a coach to the young boys on the Wild Boars soccer team – 12 of whom are trapped alongside him – he spent a decade as a saffron-robed Buddhist monk. He still stays at the temple from time to time and will meditate with the monks there each day.

"He could meditate up to an hour," said his aunt, Tham Chanthawong. "It has definitely helped him and probably helps the boys to stay calm."

More than 288 hours have passed since Ekapol and the boys got trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave by monsoon floodwaters on June 23 after they went exploring. The group was discovered July 2 after 10 days totally cut off from the outside world, and while they are for the most physically healthy, experts say the ordeal has likely taken a mental toll that could worsen the longer the situation lasts.

"It's very likely that while the boys were in the cave but not yet discovered by rescuers that they experienced various degrees of anxiety, fear, confusion, vulnerability and dependency, and perhaps hopelessness," said Paul Auerbach, of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Stanford University's medical school.

Videos taken inside the cave show the boys, aged 11-16, and their coach interacting with Thai navy SEAL divers, who have been sent in to supply them, provide medical care and to keep them company. Though they are visibly skinny and weak, the boys and their coach appear to be in good spirits, smiling for the camera as the SEALs crack jokes.

Still the group is unable to leave and there is no timeline for their extraction. The only way out of the cave at this time would be for the boys to dive through the same complicated route of narrow passageways that their rescuers entered, something that is extremely dangerous even for expert divers let alone children with no such experience. Yet it is something being considered with storms on the way that could worsen the floods.

Cave rescue experts have said it could be safest to simply supply the boys where they are for now, and wait for the water to go down either naturally or by pumping. That could take months, however, given that Thailand's rainy season typically lasts through October.

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