Jim Warny is an expert cave diver and has been diving in caves for over 20 years. He was born in Belgium but is now based in Co Clare.
Well known around the world as an expert in his field, it was no surprise when he was approached by the British Cave Rescue Council to assist with the rescue of the 12 boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand.
On 23 June, the football team were trapped in a flash flood inside Tham Luang, 4km from the cave’s entrance. After days of pumping water from the cave system and a respite from rain, the rescue teams hastened to get everyone out before the next monsoon rain, which was expected to bring a potential 52 mm (2.0 in) of additional rainfall and was predicted to start around 11 July.
Between 8 and 10 July, all of the boys and their coach were rescued from the cave by an international team including Jim who transported the boys through flooded, narrow sections of the cave in the dark using guide ropes, rescuing them all.
The rescue effort involved more than 10,000 people, including over 100 divers, many rescue workers, representatives from about 100 governmental agencies, 900 police officers and 2,000 soldiers, and required ten police helicopters, seven police ambulances, more than 700 diving cylinders, and the pumping of more than a billion litres of water out of the caves.
There was one fatality, Saman Kunan, a 37-year-old former Thai Navy SEAL who died of asphyxiation on 6 July while returning to a staging base in the cave after delivering supplies of air.
The rescue of the Wild Boars touched a global nerve, an uplifting counterpoint to the wars, atrocities, ethnic conflicts and crises afflicting countries like Syria, South Sudan and Yemen – not to mention, closer to home, in Myanmar and Thailand itself, where there is a long-running war near the southern border. For many people around the world Thailand’s extraordinary operation to save 12 boys and their coach was a welcome contrast to the images of the United States separating immigrant children from their parents and locking them up.
Describing his emotions when the first boys were taken out of the cave, Jim 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 was he apprehensive about the rescue, Jim 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”.
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