Cave boys are true heroes, says diver who carried them out in 'miracle' Thai rescue operation
The Irish caver who took part in the rescue of 12 Thai boys and their football coach has said it was a "miracle" that they were all saved.
Belgian national Jim Warny received a hero's welcome yesterday at Shannon Airport, where a crowd of around 100 applauded and cheered as he came through the arrivals hall.
Flanked by his proud fiancee Asia Mania and his dad Rene, Mr Warny told reporters: "We really didn't expect that there would be such a good outcome.
"It is a truly amazing miracle that through all of those people involved in the rescue those boys got to go home to their families".
However, he added that it was "bittersweet", as 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".
Ms Mania said the last few days have been "very stressful" as she waited for updates about the rescue.
"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," she said.
"I can't wait to drive home, close the door and be together."
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.
He said conditions in the cave were difficult "because of the added responsibility of a human life attached to you".
The caver received the request for help on July 6, and said that after discussing the call with his fiancee and family, he flew out the following morning.
During his time in Thailand, Mr Warny provided text updates to his nine-year-old son Ciaran back home in Ennis.
Of the rescue effort, Mr Warny said: "It was a huge operation. It was a rescue with many teams involved from all over the world. The Thai people were heavily invested in it - they are such a nice and friendly nation."
Commenting on the conditions inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave, Mr Warny said: "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.
"Luckily, our particular team is well used to those conditions through our hobby - that is what we do.
"They are able to manage the risk and the stress and able to perform at the front end of the rescue."
Mr Warny said he did not feel that his life was at risk at any stage of the rescue.
"Cave diving and caving is something I do on a weekly basis. It is a highly dangerous activity. That is why we train," he said.
"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."
Of his emotions when the first boys were taken out of the cave, Mr Warny said: "It was a huge feeling, the whole team working together. There were a lot of happy faces around.
"We were focused right until the end - until the final people were taken out and then everyone was very happy."
Mr Warny said that he is very happy to be home.
"I can only imagine how worried they were - I was worried too," he added.
Fianna Fail mayor of Ennis Clare Colleran Molloy was the first to greet Mr Warny.
"It is wonderful that we have a good news story that gives us all a big happy smile," Ms Colleran Molloy said.
She added that Clare County Council will give appropriate recognition in due course to Mr Warny "for his heroic efforts",
Philip Walker, who is a friend of Mr Warny and a colleague in the Clare Caving Club, met him in the arrivals hall at Shannon.
"I don't use the word 'hero' loosely, but these cave divers - they are heroes," he said.