Hero who led Thai boys to safety is home
‘Visibility in the water was bad’
CLARE-BASED rescuer Jim Warny, who put his life on the line to lead some of the trapped Thai boys to safety, denied he was a hero yesterday.
Arriving back to the comfort of his fiancée and his family, the father of one said: ‘The true heroes of the operation are those boys, who endured way more than us.’
Because of his extensive caving knowledge, Mr Warny was one of an elite 19-member multinational group of divers drafted in to help the 12 schoolboys and their soccer team coach out of the caves in Thailand before the rains flooded them.
And his greatest fear, when leading the boys through the treacherous tunnels, was not for himself but for their safety.
The conditions in the cave were difficult he said, ‘because of the added responsibility of having a human life attached to you’.
However, the astonishing rescue mission that brought the children out one at a time while the world watched, has its ‘bittersweet’ memories too, he revealed, because Petty Officer First Class Saman Gunan ‘didn’t make it’.
Mr Gunan, a former Thai Navy Seal, died after entering the cave to lay oxygen tanks along the exit route. He finished his task but lost consciousness on his return.
Mr Warny had an emotional reunion with fiancée Asia Mania, his father Rene Warny and members of the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation, as he arrived at Shannon Airport yesterday.
More than a hundred friends and supporters gathered there to salute the Belgian national, who works for Lufthansa as an engineer, and has lived in Ennis, Co. Clare, for 15 years.
‘It is a truly amazing miracle that through all of those people, those boys got to go home to their families,’ he said.
‘Luckily enough, 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, who has won several international competitions as a rescuer, said he learned about the trapped boys and then discussed it with his fiancée and family. They agreed to let him go and he flew out on Saturday of last week but it was only when he got there that he discovered how hard the rescue would be.
‘I knew the job I had to do and I focused on the task at hand. Once we had a plan it moved quickly, out of necessity,’ he 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, 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.’
He didn’t feel that his life was at risk. ‘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. We were focused right until the end, until the final people were taken out of the cave and then everyone was very happy.’
However, he is now delighted to be back home in Clare with his friends and family.
Beaming with pride, fiancée Asia Mania, originally from Poland, said she was very happy to have him home. She said: ‘I was worried for him but he is so good at what he does. He goes caving and diving constantly and I have complete trust in him, he is the best.’ His father said: ‘I am very proud of him and there is someone, his mother, up in heaven who is very proud of him too.’
Shannon Airport managing director Andrew Murphy said: ‘We’ve had many great homecomings here; in recent years the likes of John Burke after his assault on Everest and Andy Lee after winning his world title.
‘But Jim Warny, by virtue of what he did in helping save the lives of these young boys, is right up there among the most heroic we have welcomed.’
Arrival: Jim Warny and fiancée Asia Mania yesterday THAI cave rescue hero Jim Warny is well respected in the Irish caving community and had previously assisted in a rescue mission for a close friend.
In 2011, Ennis-based Belgian national Mr Warny went in search of Polish diver Artur Kozlowski, who went missing while exploring a cave in Gort, Co. Galway.
Mr Kozlowski, who was an extremely experienced diver, disappeared during a solo dive – and 22 hours into the search operation, his body was discovered 52 metres down the Pollonora borehole.
Friends Mr Warny and Mr Kozlowski had set a record for the longest and deepest Irish and British cave traverse together in Galway the previous year.