'Boys' coach is the big hero - not me', claims cave rescue diver Jim
The Ennis-based diver who took part in the heroic Thai cave rescue operation has revealed he hauled the boys' football coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, out to safety.
In an interview with Gavin Grace on Clare FM's Morning Focus show yesterday, Jim Warny said that on the final day of the mission last week, he was nominated to transfer the 25-year-old coach out of the diving sections of the cave complex.
"There is no doubt the coach is the big hero here. He managed to calm those boys and keep them together," said the Belgian national (35).
"I don't see myself as a hero, but then again if people want to call me a hero, they can do that."
Outlining the central role he played in the rescue, Mr Warny said that during the first two days, he acted as a support diver to the main divers bringing the boys out of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave.
"On the third day, I was responsible to bring out the coach through the diving sections. I was travelling on my own in flooded sections with the coach," he said.
"Technically, it wasn't difficult, but the weight and responsibility of having a human life attached to you - you are swimming for them. You are manoeuvring them."
Giving an insight into the operation, Mr Warny said the boys were nearly fully unconscious after being given sedatives.
"That was a necessity. They were set up with an inflatable life jacket so that we could balance them in the water and make them buoyant," he said.
"They had a full face mask on, which was absolutely critical for them to be able to breathe. It was a special mask that would keep positive pressure so no water would come in and they had a cylinder on their belly.
"They were lying face down with their limbs tied to their body so that it was manageable for us to take them through."
Mr Warny said none of the divers "had a fear for their own life, but there was a fear for the boys until the last boy came out".
"We were operating in a huge unknown area and you can only plan for so much," he added.
"If their mask had been knocked off there is very little we would have done to save them barring swimming as fast as we can to airspace and revive them."
Mr Warny said there was zero visibility in the cave waters further in because of the silt and mud thrown up by the number of rescuers involved.
During the first two days of the mission, Mr Warny acted as a support diver.
"The main UK divers would each bring one child out and we would be posted along the way, and we would take on the child and swim on the open surface while the child was breathing off the bottle and the mask allowing the main diver to take a rest - swap a bottle and swim along behind us," he said.
"I know what could go wrong but I was one of the more qualified people to go there.
"Sadly, the Thai navy divers - it was outside their element - they are amazing divers but their techniques would be more geared towards open water diving and combat diving.
"The only good rescuer for a cave diver is another cave diver or rescuer."
Mr Warny returned to Lufthansa Technik in Shannon yesterday.
Recalling the moment when the rescuers emerged from the cave with everyone successfully rescued, he said: "It was just amazing. Everyone was high-fiving and congratulating".
Mr Warny said that just one night after the rescue operation finished, the divers were already receiving messages from Hollywood directors "and they were looking to make movies about it".
He said it was "very good" and "nice" to see the images of the boys sitting up in their beds in hospital.
Mr Warny said he received the call on July 6 to join the rescue operation after texting the divers in Thailand to say, "I am available if you need me".
"He came back to me within five seconds and asked, 'how quick can you be ready?' and I said, 'two hours'," he said.
"Why did I volunteer? Well, I know the environment. I know what is involved with a rescue and I knew I had the skills doing explorations and expeditions before.
"That was all OK for me... Of course, I thought about the boys and whatever I could do, I would have done. That's it."
The father-of-one is now looking to get back into Irish caves.
He said that with the amazing Irish summer "the water levels are nice and low so hopefully I will get some exploration in before the winter settles in".
The 12 boys and their coach will be discharged from hospital today and will hold a news conference later to satisfy huge media interest in their story, a government official said.