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Wednesday, 3 May, 2000, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
In the wake of disaster
David Coulthard's crashed Learjet
Two died when David Coulthard's airplane crashed
Despite stepping unscathed from the wreckage of his chartered Learjet, David Coulthard may still have to overcome the psychological scars left by his ordeal.

The crash, which killed the aircraft's two pilots, is the sort of incident likely to cause post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the survivors, according to psychologist Noel Proud.

"PTSD can occur in those, of any age, who are exposed to an event where there is the risk of death or serious injury to themselves or others."
Formula One star David Coulthard
Will the air crash hinder Coulthard's driving?

While not all of those who come close to an unexpected death go on to develop PTSD, the disorder's effects can be severe and long-lasting.

It is too early to know whether Coulthard, who is tipped to race in Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix, will suffer the effects. The symptoms usually start a week or so after the traumatic event, says Mr Proud.

The first "cluster" of symptoms are known as "intrusions". A person's thoughts, and even dreams, may be invaded by recollections of their experience.

Avoiding action

A sufferer may also develop "avoidance" behaviours. They may seek to duck all thoughts and conversation about their ordeal.

They may also try to avoid locations and people they associate with the trauma.

Mr Proud says in the case of aircraft accidents, survivors may widen their avoidance of air travel to include other modes of transport.
Learjet wreckage at Lyon, France
Air disasters can prompt PTSD in survivors

Even if Coulthard, who triumphed at the British Grand Prix last month, does not associate his F1 car with the crashed Learjet, he may still find the hubbub surrounding a race meeting trying.

"People with PTSD can begin to take a diminished involvement in large events," says Mr Proud.

Loughborough University sports psychologist Professor Stuart Biddle is not surprised by speculation Coulthard will race on Sunday.

Driving on

"People's reactions do vary and we should not necessarily come to the conclusion that he would be unwise to go ahead with the race.

"You could ask what else would he do if he didn't race, maybe just dwell on the crash?"

Mr Biddle says research has shown high levels of stress can present problems for sports personalities.
World War I
PTSD was known as "shell shock" during WWI

"They become prone to injury. This is because their minds are slightly off the job in hand, they may lack concentration and have negative thoughts."

But Coulthard's own fears that his performance may suffer because of the accident could even "sharpen" his mind.

"Some people they realise the experience could be distracting and so over-compensate and become more focused on what they are doing."

Road to recovery

Formula One racing is renowned as one of the most mentally and physically demanding of sports, but Mr Biddle says these strains may aid Coulthard in recovering from the crash.

"Most personalities in Formula One, we would guess, are what is termed 'sensation seekers'.

You could ask what else would he do if he didn't race, maybe just dwell on the crash?

Professor Stuart Biddle

"That's not to say in any way that Coulthard would have enjoyed the plane crash, but drivers like the thrill of what we would consider a dangerous activity."

The circumstances of the air crash, in which Coulthard was a passenger, may help the driver separate the accident from his job on the race track.

Controlling factor

"The fact is he wasn't in control of the plane but will be in control of the car - that's probably why F1 drivers don't feel the sport is as dangerous as we do," says Professor Biddle.
David Coulthard's McLaren-Mercedes in action
"F1 drivers don't feel the sport is as dangerous as we do."

"They are at the wheel and trust their skill and judgement."

Despite the increased recognition of PTSD, the condition remains a complex one to tackle, with severity and symptoms varying from person to person.

Mr Proud says people can suffer the ill effects of a traumatic event for months and years.

Sufferers' lives can be dogged by depression, vivid flashbacks and in some cases a descent into drug abuse.

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See also:

03 May 00 | Scotland
Coulthard back in the race
03 May 00 | Scotland
Coulthard: I was lucky to survive
02 May 00 | Motorsport
Coulthard: Scotland's fastest man
23 Apr 00 | Motorsport
Silverstone glory for Coulthard
13 Oct 99 | Medical notes
Post-traumatic stress disorder
13 Oct 99 | Medical notes
Anxiety disorder
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