THE ENNIS BASED caver who took part in the heroic rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach said it was an “amazing miracle” that the boys were rescued and are now back with their families.
At Shannon airport this morning, Belgian national Jim Warny received a hero’s welcome at the airport after a crowd of around 100 people applauded and cheered as he came through the doors at the arrivals hall.
Flanked by his proud fíance, Asia Mania and his Dad, Rene, Warny told reporters, “We really didn’t expect that there would be such a good outcome.
“It is a truly amazing miracle that through all of those people (involved in the rescue) that those boys got to go home to their families.”
However, he said that it was “bittersweet” that Petty Officer First Class Saman Gunan “didn’t make it”.
Warny said that “the true heroes of the operation are those boys who endured way more than us”.
Warny’s fiance Mania said that the last few days have been ‘very stressful’ as she waited for updates around the rescue.
She said, “It has been a nervous time. I truly believe that Jim knows what he is doing. I trust him in everything that he does – especially when he goes caving.
I knew he would be back home. I can’t wait to drive home, close the door and be together.
‘There were a lot of happy faces’
Warny was at the ‘front end’ of the rescue with a group of English cave divers and he confirmed that he personally carried out some of the boys trapped in the cave.
He said that conditions in the cave were difficult “because of the added responsibility of having a human life attached to you”.
The caver received the request for help last Friday and he said that after discussing the call with his fiance and family, he flew out Saturday morning.
During his time in Thailand, Warny provided text updates to his nine year old son, Ciaran living back home in Ennis.
On the rescue effort, Warny said: “It was a huge operation.
It was a rescue with many teams involved from all over the world. The Thai people were heavily invested in it – they are such a nice and friendly nation.
Commenting on the conditions inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave, Warny said: “Conditions were certainly harsh. Visibility in the water was quite bad. A lot of parts of the cave weren’t flooded, you were diving, walking, swimming, waving.
“It was a very dynamic environment to move through – that is why it required a lot of teams in the earlier sections of the cave and our own team to hand over the boys.”
He said: “Luckily enough, our particular team is well used to those conditions through our hobby, that is what we do.”
They are able to manage the risk and the stress and able to perform at the front end of the rescue.
Warny said that he didn’t feel that his life was at risk at any stage of the rescue.
He said: “Cave diving and caving is something I do on a weekly basis. It is a highly dangerous activity. That is why we train.
“We are at it for so many years and we are able to manage the risk and the stress and on top of it to bring those boys out which was not an easy feat.”
On his emotions when the first boys were taken out of the cave, Warny said: “It was a huge feeling, the whole team working together. There were a lot of happy faces around.”
He added: “We were focused right until the end – until the final people were taken out of the cave and then everyone was very happy.”
Asked if he was apprehensive about participating in the rescue, Warny said: “I knew the job I had to do and I focused on the task at hand.”
He said that it took a while to formulate a rescue plan “and once we had a plan it moved quickly out of necessity”.
Warny said that he is very happy to be home with friends and family. He said: “I can only imagine how worried they were – I was worried too.”
‘Bringing great happiness to our county and our town’
Fianna Fáil mayor of Ennis, Cllr Claire Colleran Molloy was the first to greet Warny as the caver and his supporters emerged through the doors at the arrival hall Friday morning.
Wearing the mayoral chain of office, Cllr Colleran Molloy said: “It is wonderful that we have a good news story that gives us all a big happy smile.
“We were all watching, hoping and praying that there wouldn’t be one boy left behind. I was thinking ‘My God, is it even going to be possible to extract any?’ because I was looking at the very tight areas that were going to have to be traversed.”
Cllr Colleran Molloy said that Warny through his heroic work “is bringing great happiness to our county and our town”.
Cllr Colleran Molloy lauded Warny’s “incredible bravery”. She said: “He is the father of a young boy and yet it was very important for him to go and volunteer – to use his skills and expertise to ensure that these other 12 boys were brought to safety.”
Cllr Colleran Molloy said that Clare Co Council will give appropriate recognition in due course to Mr Warny “for his heroic efforts and his bravery leaving home last weekend to partake in this rescue mission.”
Philip Walker is a friend of Warny and a colleague in the Clare Caving Club.
In the arrivals hall on Friday, Walker said: “I don’t use the word ‘hero’ loosely, but these cave divers – they are heroes. They went out there and put themselves on the line going into that cave and to get those children out of the cave was a feat in itself.”
A Yorkshire man, Walker said that it was important to come to the airport “and see him home”.
He said: “It is important you welcome one of your own back safely and we are very, very proud of him in what he has achieved.”
A veteran on a number of rescue missions himself, Walker said: “On a rescue team, we are all trained to keep a cool head and look at things and analyse. We don’t rush in.”
Warny’s father Rene said that he was very proud of his son. He said: “It is a relief that he is back. I am glad that he is home and that is the main thing.”
For further information on cave diving in Ireland, visit Irish Cave Divers on Facebook.