Update 1.40pm: The Ennis based caver who took part in the heroic rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach today 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 fiance, Asia Mania and his Dad, Rene, Mr Warny told reporters “We really didn’t expect that there would be such a good outcome.”
However, he said that it was “bittersweet” that Petty Officer First Class Saman Gunan "didn't make it".
Mr Warny said that “the true heroes of the operation are those boys who endured way more than us”.
Mr 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.
Commenting on the difficult conditions inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave, Mr Warny said: “Luckily enough, our particular team is well used to those conditions through our hobby, that is what we do."
He said: “They are able to manage the risk and the stress and able to perform at the front end of the rescue.”
He said that inside the cave “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.”
Mr 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.
On his emotions when the first boys were taken out of the cave, Mr Varny 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 what he apprehensive about participating in the rescue, Mr 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”.
Mr 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.”
Update 12.05pm: Ennis based diver Jim Warny back on Irish soil following Thai cave rescue
Jim Warny is back on Irish soil after taking part in the cave rescue in Thailand.
He has received a heroes welcome at Shannon airport in Co Clare after touching down in the past hour.
The Ennis based diver from Belgium hit the world headlines for helping to get 12 boys and their coach out of flooded caves.
Jim Warny said he was very fortunate to have been able to take part, but the boys were the true heroes.
Shannon Airport have also paid tribute to the heroic diver.
Managing Director Andrew Murphy said: “We’ve had many great homecomings here; in recent years the likes of John Burke after his successful assault on Everest and Andy Lee after winning his world title.
“This was a rescue that captured world attention. We could even see that from people coming through the airport, stopping to watch bulletins on it on the tv in our lounge.
"Save for the tragic death of the Thai navy diver Saman Gunan who lost his life during the rescue programme, a death that no doubt hit Jim and his colleagues hard, the outcome in Thailand was beyond what most could have expected.
"To have someone living here in Clare, in the west of Ireland, involved in this is an incredible source of pride for us all and it’s only right we would have afforded him this welcome.”
Gordon Deegan and Digital Desk
Earlier: Ennis based diver returns home following Thai cave rescue
The Ennis based diver who participated in this week's international Cave rescue in Thailand returns home later today.
Jim Warny who is a member of the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation flew out on Friday to assist in the operation.
Clare Councillor Mary Howard has praised him for his efforts.
She said: "Jim has been out there working and they have performed a miracle essentially because the weather was against them.
"I think it is hugely important that we acknowledge the good that has been done and that we look to the future and say 'how can we acknowledge Jim for what he has done?'"