Cave-diving hero back in Ennis after 'miracle feat'
The Irish-based diver who took part in the heroic rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach said it was an "amazing miracle" the boys were rescued.
Jim Warny - a Belgian national now living in Ennis - received a hero's welcome as he arrived at Shannon Airport.
Flanked by his proud fiancée, Asia Mania, and father Rene, Mr Warny told reporters: "We really didn't expect that there would be such a good outcome."
He said: "It is a truly amazing miracle that ... those boys got to go home to their families."
However, he said it was "bitter-sweet" that one diver, petty officer Saman Gunan, "didn't make it".
Mr Warny said: "The true heroes of the operation are those boys who endured way more than us."
Ms Mania said the last few days have been "very stressful" as she waited for updates about 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."
Mr Warny was at the 'front end' of the rescue with a group of English cave divers and personally carried some of the boys out of the cave.
Conditions in the cave were difficult "because of the added responsibility of having a human life attached to you," he said.
The caver received the request for help last Friday and, after discussing it with his fiancée and family, he flew out last Saturday morning. During his time in Thailand, Mr Warny provided text updates to his nine-year-old son Ciaran, living back home in Ennis.
On the rescue effort, Mr Warny said: "It was a huge operation. It was a rescue with many teams involved from all over the world."
Commenting on the conditions inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave, Mr 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, 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 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."
Mr Warny 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, Mr Warny said: "There were a lot of happy faces around."