AN ENNIS cave-diving expert, who played a major role in rescuing 12 school boys trapped in a Thailand cave, has described the rescue operation as an “amazing miracle”.
Jim Warny flew into Shannon Airport on a flight from Heathrow on Friday morning where he was greeted with a warm welcome from onlookers.
Mr Warny’s exploits has gained international media attention after reuniting the 12 school boys trapped in the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non caves in Thailand with their families.
Jim flew out last week to help in the massive rescue effort, which saw divers from all over the world get involved in rescuing the boys and their football coach from the caves in Thailand’s Chiang Rio province.
Originally from Belgium, he has been living in Ennis for more than a decade.
Shannon Airport visitors burst into applause when Jim came through the arrival’s area flanked by his father, Réne, his financée, Asia Mania and Brian McCoitir from the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation.
He was greeted by Mayor of Ennis, Claire Colleran-Molloy, who told the Clare Champion that the local authority will consider some form of official recognition for Jim’s heroic efforts.
Speaking to the media, Jim said he was very fortunate to be asked to help with the rescue as he is very friendly with some of the lead divers who were the first to make the trip to Thailand.
Having been tasked to participate in the rescue on Friday evening, Jim discussed the situation with his family and fiancée, Asia and flew out on Saturday morning.
Describing the rescue as a huge operation, he recalled it involved many teams from all over the world.
“The Thai people were heavily invested in this rescue and they are such a very friendly nation. It is a truly amazing miracle that through all the rescuerers coming together these boys got to go home to meet their families.
“It is bittersweet that one navy seal didn’t make it and I give my condolences to his family, friends and diving team.
Asked how difficult the conditions were in Thailand, Jim said the conditions were “pretty difficult” but luckily enough the rescue team were able to manage the risk and stress through the experience gained from their hobby and were able to perform what needed to be done during this major operation.
“I am very happy to be home back to Asia, his dad and all my friends. I can only imagine how worried they were and I was worried too. I am very fortunate to have been able to do this but the true heroes are the boys that endured way more danger than us.
He didn’t think his life was at risk at any stage as cave diving is something he does on a weekly basis.
“It is a highly dangerous activity but that is why we train. We are cave diving for so many years that is why we are able to manage the risk and the huge responsibility to bring these boys out, which was not an easy feat.
Asked about his emotions when he saw the first boys coming out of the cave, he said it was a huge feeling and noted the rescue was achieved by everyone in the team working away.
“There was a lot of happy faces around the building. We didn’t really expect that it would be such a good outcome. We were focused right until the end until the last boys were out of the cave and then everyone was very happy.
“Conditions inside the cave were harsh. Visibility in the water was quite bad. Parts of the cave weren’t flooded so we were walking, swimming and wading. 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. It required a large amount of people to hand over the boys.
“I knew the job I had to do and I focused on the task at hand. I was part of the English divers that went in and recovered the boys. I will reflect on further details as will all the team members,” he said.
He confirmed that he also carried some of the boys out to safety.
Jim works at Shannon-based Lufthansa and is a volunteer with the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation (ICRO), which has one of its two national bases in Doolin. Brian McCoitir of ICRO praised Jim for his efforts in Thailand, describing him as, “the right man in the right place”.
Belgian Ambassador to Ireland, Pierre-Emmanuel De Bauw, has offered his congratulations to Jim for playing “a decisive role in saving the lives of the 12 boys and their coach in Thailand”.
The final four football players, along with their coach, were brought to safety on Tuesday, three days into the rescue operation. They joined the eight other members of the Wild Boars team in hospital, where they have been quarantined.
The boys and their 25-year-old coach were trapped for more than two weeks after going into a cave to explore when heavy rains began to trap them.
This international story has garnered huge media attention world-wide.
Councillor Colleran-Molloy, said it is “incredible” to have an Ennis resident with such great expertise, bravery and experience in cave diving.
She said she felt it was very important to be present to welcome Jim home to Clare as Mayor of Ennis.
“We are all delighted that this is such a good news story now that all the 12 boys are rescued. Jim is a very shy reserved man who probably doesn’t want this welcome but you can’t just be here to say ‘well done, we are so proud of you.
“It has been mooted in the council that an appropriate acknowledgement would be given, which will be discussed in September. It my be a civic or a mayoral reception to acknowledge someone who is a real hero on our own doorstep,” she said.