Butch Hendrick on the rescue efforts in Thailand:

There are several issues to consider in preparing the youth soccer team to be rescued from the cave. We are not there so we cannot understand all of the realistic difficulties. The following is based on my experience training thousands of divers in high-risk, zero-visibility environments and with people who are phobic of water.

Issue 1: Problems regarding rescue safety. Cave divers, wreck divers, public safety divers all should be wearing redundant breathing systems at minimum of pony or bailout bottles with independent regulators. They all should be wearing full face masks. Rescuers need to be able to communicate with each other with hand-hand communication signals like those we use in blackwater public safety diving.

Issue 2: We don’t need to teach the children how to be scuba divers, we have to teach them how to confidentially breathe underwater with a full face mask (FFM) and how to clear it if it floods. We have trained over a thousand people how to successfully use FFM’s in zero visibility environments and know that this can be accomplished in less than 30 minutes.

  • FFMs are critical because they help prevent wearers from accidentally losing their regulator (air source), keep airways dry should the wearer lose consciousness, decrease heat loss, and protect the wearers’ entire face from exposure to water.
  • Getting the full face mask to seal comfortably on a small child’s face often requires a small filler inside the skirt of the mask. What we usually use is window weather stripping.
  • The children don’t have to know how to kick because they most likely are going to be brought out by the divers like a baby kangaroo in the pouch of its mother. If the boys kick there is a good chance they will be kicking their rescuer and possibly injure themselves against cave surfaces.
  • They don’t have to know how to swim.

Issue 3: They are going to need some sort of Exposure suit (Wetsuit or Drysuit) both to prevent hypothermia due to the extended time window exposure to cold water, and to protect the children’s bodies in the small passageways of the cave. Remember that conductive heat loss in 27 C water is equal to ~6 C air.

  • They need protection in case they bump up against the walls because the possibility that they will get cuts and abrasions from the walls is high.
  • Their skin is fragile because of their current living conditions.
  • The water in the cave is likely dirty and as in any flood environment, the potential for contamination/pollution is very high.

Issue 4: The children need to build a strong bond with the divers who will be taking them out of the cave so that there will be full trust between them. Each rescuer needs to also be capable of continually monitoring their child’s body movements and breathing to recognize early signs of stress or problems in order to manage them and prevent escalation.  The breathing may have to be monitored by feel and sound. They will need to use hand-to-hand signals for communication like we already use in blackwater public safety diving.

Issue 5: Replace fear with the excitement of the biggest adventure of their life.  Make the transport into the next step in an incredible adventure similar to what Harry Potter did.   They have this amazing opportunity that only their heroes have had the opportunity to do.

Issue 6: The divers can only bring one child out at a time, start to finish. This is important because if anything does go wrong, we can’t have the system backing up like a traffic jam. There will most likely be more than one rescue diver involved in escorting each child out of the cave.

We just recently completed an on-line training program for Full Face Mask Certification with NAUI, scheduled to become available on August 1st.  More to come…


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