Indignant Elon Musk defends his “kid-sized” submarine for Thai cave rescue

Elon Musk has tried his hand at many an industry. From EVs with Tesla, to space with SpaceX and even consumer goods. The maverick entrepreneur has fingers in lots of pies. One pie that seemed to have fallen by the wayside was Musk’s “infrastructure and tunnel construction” firm, The Boring Company (go on, bask in that razor-sharp wit). Until now, with the eccentric tech billionaire stepping up to offer TBC’s services to aid in the rescue of the Thai soccer team trapped in an underground cave. Although it appears that the tangible impact made by Musk’s latest brainchild may have been limited…

His “kid-sized” submarine went unused in the Thai cave rescue mission, with the BBC reporting that the “Thai rescue chief” had dubbed Musk’s offer “not practical” for the task at hand. 

Not one to keep quiet, Musk went online to set the record straight, defending his involvement in the rescue. “The former Thai provincial governor (described inaccurately as “rescue chief” is not the subject matter expert,” he asserted. “That would be Dick Stanton, who co-led the dive rescue team. This is our direct correspondence,” he added, attaching a screenshot of his emails with Stanton. 

The correspondence shows Stanton’s requests to Musk, with the former revealing poignantly: “We’re worried about the smallest lad please keep working on the capsule details.”

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Sustained rescue efforts conducted by the Thai authorities have now proved fruitful, with reports that all twelve of the boys have been safely removed from the cave. Survivors are said to be healthy and in high spirits, but are resting in hospital amid heightened risk of infection. As they regain full strength, we can’t help but mull over the rescue mission that never was: Elon Musk‘s “kid-sized” submarine. While it no doubt had the capacity to help, the tool turned out to be redundant in the rescue mission, although Musk has vowed to leave it there “in case it may be useful in the future”. 

Musk took to Twitter to update followers: “Just returned from Cave 3. Mini-sub is ready if needed. It is made of rocket parts and named Wild Board after kids’ soccer team. Leaving here in case it may be useful in the future. Thailand is so beautiful.” 

Thai cave rescue: The situation

Not up to speed on the Thai cave rescue? The story made headlines last week, as a group of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach, who have been missing since last month, were found alive in an underground cave in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand.

Having gone without food for a week and a half before their whereabouts was discovered, the boys and their coach are not yet strong enough to attempt escape. What’s more, the precarity of their position – and the heavy rainfall predicted (Thailand’s wet season spans May to October) – means they’ll either have to learn to dive to get out, or risk waiting months for rescue.

thai_cave_rescue_effort

Events took a tragic turn with news that an ex-Navy diver died during the rescue mission. Petty Officer Saman Gunan was on a mission to deliver oxygen to the boys when his personal oxygen supply ran out on the return journey. “His job was to deliver oxygen. He did not have enough on his way back,” explained the Chiang Rai deputy governor to the BBC.

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Tuesday marks the 18th day the boys have spent in the cave after it became suddenly flooded by monsoon rains when they were exploring it after a football match on 23rd June.

Thai cave rescue: Elon Musk’s intervention

Given the alarming precarity of rescue options, Elon Musk’s offer of high-tech assistance could not have come at a better time. The billionaire engineer is currently in talks with Thai authorities to establish how the resources at his disposal – including those associated with TBC and SpaceX – could help with the cave rescue.

Among the services his companies could offer are location tracking, water pumping and providing his heavy-duty battery packs, the Tesla Powerwall. The offer is still in deliberation period, and it’s unclear as of yet whether Thai authorities will accept the offer, reports Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, Musk was adamant on social media that his services could be of use, while taking pains not to step on the Thai authorities’ toes. On Twitter he wrote, “Boring CO has advanced ground penetrating radar & is pretty good at digging holes. Don’t know if pump rate is limited by electric power or pumps are too smal. If so, could dropship fully charged Powerpacks and pumps,” but was quick to establish, “I suspect the Thai govt has this under control, but I’m happy to help if there is a way to do so”.

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As requests flooded in for Musk to weigh in on the situation, the tech billionaire took more concrete steps to assist. Onlookers speculated as to how this assistance would manifest – via The Boring Company, Tesla or SpaceX technology (or a combination of all three). A few days ago, Musk recently unveiled on Twitter a “submarine” engineered to rescue the boys, using the liquid oxygen transfer tube of the Falcon rocket. 

The submarine can fit a person inside with their arms crossed, and is designed to be carried by two divers. The escape pod measures just 12in in diameter, making it a perfect option for navigating the small recesses of the cave where the boys are trapped. 

 

For now, things are looking good, with the “Wild Boar” soccer team recovering in hospital. Meanwhile, Twitter has lampooned Musk’s efforts with predictable alacrity: 

Although we reckon Musk’s response to the drama, despite being ultimately fruitless, was commendable; steering clear of a “white saviour” complex in his deference to the Thai government, while offering to assist with the vast array of resources at his disposal. More of this standby assistance from tech giants please. 

We will be updating this page as new details of the rescue come in.

Images: Steve Jurvetson and Heiko S, used under Creative Commons

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