Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Truly amazing cave rescue in Thailand shows old-fashioned male bravery at its very best

Men have been getting a bad press recently, but Fionola Meredith is in awe of the divers who saved the young boys

The extraordinary saga of the young Thai footballers, now rescued from the caves where they were trapped, has gripped the world's imagination - and mine. Like many people, I couldn't stop checking for updates on the progress of the operation.

At first, it seemed that the 12 boys of the Wild Boars team and their 25-year-old coach were lost, drowned by floods or marooned beyond help in the deep subterranean network of pitch-dark caverns.

But then came the incredible moment when two British divers, having swum, squeezed and clambered their way through the twisting labyrinth, finally discovered the boys and their coach, perched on a ledge above the flood-waters, their pale, eager faces suddenly illuminated by torchlight.

Miraculously, they were alive, intact. But then came the agonisingly difficult question of how - and when - the group was to be freed from the cave, with more monsoon rains inevitable and oxygen levels falling.

The journey to the surface was perilous enough even for highly experienced rescue divers, let alone a pack of famished boys, and was likened to the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest. Tragically, a Thai navy Seal, Saman Kunan, died when he ran out of oxygen while delivering air tanks. The dangers were numerous, complex and very real.

The decision to evacuate the team came suddenly. As the hours went by, the young footballers slowly emerged, one by one. Everyone was on tenterhooks. Would all the Wild Boars make it? The answer, joyously, was yes. Against overwhelming odds, they are all free.

The courage, commitment, expertise and stamina of the people who made this unprecedented rescue happen is beyond praise. They are international heroes.

There has been relatively little information about the team who got the boys out. We do know that John Volanthen, an IT consultant from Bristol, was the first diver to find them, alongside Rick Stanton, a former firefighter, both from South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team.

They were followed by several Thai Navy seals, three of whom volunteered to stay underground with the group, and later an Australian doctor, Richard Harris, who examined the boys and ultimately gave the go-ahead for the rescue. Belgian, Danish and Finnish diving experts were also closely involved.

It struck me that these people are all men. There may well have been women divers involved in the complex operation - I'm pretty sure I saw at least one photograph of a female rescue worker - but it appears that the vast majority of people who repeatedly put their lives at risk to save the Wild Boars and their coach were indeed male.

You could say that the gender of the rescuers doesn't matter, as long as the team were saved, and you'd be right. And I'm not saying women divers couldn't do it, of course they could.

But I also believe that there's a rare, unassuming, but intensely courageous kind of male heroism that doesn't get enough credit, in these days of the MeToo movement. Too often, men - due to the revolting and in some cases criminal actions of a minority of their number - are represented as potentially suspect, communally culpable, heedlessly complicit foot-soldiers of the patriarchy.

So it's good to see the decent ones, the kind who drop everything to rush to Thailand and save the lives of a bunch of kids in mortal danger, get a bit of recognition for once.

The fabulous American author and critic Camille Paglia caused outrage (as she often does, and more power to her) when she observed that "a peevish, grudging rancour against men" has been one of the most unpalatable features of recent feminism.

"Men's faults, failings and foibles have been seized on and magnified into gruesome bills of indictment," she said.

Paglia pointed out that it is almost always men who do the dirty, dangerous work that makes our everyday lives possible: "building roads, pouring concrete, laying bricks, tarring roofs, hanging electric wires, excavating gas and sewage lines", and so on.

"Surely, modern women are strong enough now to give credit where credit is due," she remarked.

Two weeks ago, it seemed that the Thai footballers didn't stand a chance of escape. The fact that their stories did not end in the dark, dank caves of Tham Luang but can continue into the future, is a miracle of courage and ingenuity.

Credit where credit is due. The young boys of the Wild Boar football team could have no better role models than the brave men who rescued them.

Belfast Telegraph

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