Hero who led Thai boys to safety is home

Irish Daily Mail - - News - news@dai­ly­mail.ie By Gordon Dee­gan

‘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.

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