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'The gap was closing': Ennis diver Jim Warny on the fear and elation of the Thai cave rescue

Warny spoke to RTÉ’s Philip Boucher Hayes in his first in-depth interview since returning home to Co Clare.

Image: Cathal Mullane via Irish Cave Divers

THE ENNIS-BASED caver who took part in the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach in Thailand earlier this month has said the mission almost ended in disaster when the water in their ‘resupply’ cave began to rise while divers were still inside.

Jim Warny, a Belgian national, spoke to RTÉ’s Philip Boucher Hayes in his first in-depth interview since returning home to Co Clare.

He said that the pumps that were keeping the water levels down had failed when there were about ten people left in part of the cave that had a gap just large enough to keep your head above water, adding:

“That gap was closing quickly.”

Said Warny:

“As the last boy got out the pumps failed and the resupply and control cave was flooded within a number of minutes.

 The water was rising at an incredible rate

The Ennis resident is a member of the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation and has experience cave diving at locations around the world dating back two decades.

He said that he had watched the first week of the rescue mission unfold on the TV and had messaged a friend involved in the operation to say “I’m here if you need me”.

“He replied instantly and said ‘how quickly can you be ready?’

“Five minutes later I was packing my bags to go and I flew out the following morning.”

Once he arrived in Thailand he was underground within two hours.

Thailand cave rescue Members of the Royal Thai Navy pictured with the 12 schoolboys Source: UPI/PA Images

Complex dive

Warny was at the ‘front end’ of the rescue with a group of English cave divers and said that he had personally helped carry out some of the boys.

“Visibility-wise, it couldn’t have gotten any worse. I wasn’t out of my comfort zone in terms of the environment and the technicality of the dive but it was more the psychological part of having to be responsible for a human life.”

Thailand cave rescue Members of the Royal Thai Navy along with volunteers from England, the United States, Australia, and China, are pictured as they prepare to rescue 12 schoolboys Source: UPI/PA Images

Describing the dive, Warny explained how the water levels varied throughout the Tham Luang Nang Non cave.

“There was one short section that was flooded that you had to wade through while pulling a rope with just enough room for your head above the water.

“Then you would come into the major underground and resupply point where the actual cave diving starts.

“And then it varied from fully flooded sections, the shortest would be about 5 metres long and the longest would have been about 350 metres long.

“The was one section where we had to completely get out of the water, put the boys in a stretcher and transfer them for about 200 metres.

All this section would have been around two kilometres which is a considerable distance especially when you have to transfer somebody else.

The Week That Was In Asia Photo Gallery Video released via the Thai NavySEAL Facebook Page on Wednesday, July 11, 2018, rescuers hold an evacuated boy Source: Sakchai Lalit

Sedated 

Because of the time constraints, Warny said that they didn’t have much of a chance to prepare the boys for the dive.

“The guys that were there before me had gathered a few school kids and done some tests in a swimming pool so they figured out which type of mask they wanted to use.”

Warny said that the biggest concern was how to manage stress levels of both the boys and the divers and came to the conclusion that the boys would have to be sedated.

They were basically asleep, close to fully sedated, it wouldn’t have worked any other way.

Boucher-Hayes also asked who he would like to play him in the film adaptation of the rescue. Warny’s response: “I wouldn’t mind going back to Thailand myself.”

The interview will be aired on the Today programme on RTÉ Radio 1 after 10am.

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Adam Daly

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