Elon Musk has sent engineers from SpaceX and his tunnel construction company Boring Company to assist in the urgent rescue operation of 12 trapped boys and their football coach from a cave in Thailand.
Thai authorities believe there is now a three- to four-day window to free the 12 boys stranded inside the cave and will focus on reducing the dangers of the rescue operation as much as possible until rain or increasingly toxic air inside the chamber forces them to act.
According to Elon Musk, his team have begun working with cave experts in Thailand and have created an “escape pod design that might be safe enough to try.”
“[The next] three to four days from now is the most favourable time for the operation and rescue mission using one of the action plans,” Narongsak Osatanakorn, the governor of Chiang Rai province, told a press conference at the cave site. “If we wait too long, we don’t know how much rainwater will come.”
The original announcement that Musk was offering to assist the 12 Thai boys and their coach came on Twitter, following one user calling Musk to action:
Hi sir, if possible can you assist in anyway to get the 12 Thailand boys and their coach out of the cave. @elonmusk
— MabzMagz (@MabzMagz) July 3, 2018
Elon Musk began to share ideas about possible technology for a safe evacuation, suggesting that an air tunnel constructed with soft tubing like a bouncy castle could provide a flexible passage out for the trapped boys.
After a string of responses, Musk announced that it was necessary to assess the situation in person.
SpaceX & Boring Co engineers headed to Thailand tomorrow to see if we can be helpful to govt. There are probably many complexities that are hard to appreciate without being there in person.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 6, 2018
According to Thai authorities, Musk’s resources may assist with location tracking, water pumping, or battery power.
James Yenbamroong, of a Thai aerospace company, joined in.
He tweeted: “SpaceX team reached out to us today to help connect to Thai govt. Our team connected and provided some prep feedback to your team. For pumps, cave has narrowest 70cm cross section and about 5km to 13 guys. For vertical drill, it’s about 1/2 mile down and tricky.”
Elon Musk replied: “Maybe worth trying: insert a 1m diameter nylon tube (or shorter set of tubes for most difficult sections) through cave network & inflate with air like a bouncy castle. Should create an air tunnel underwater against cave roof & auto-conform to odd shapes like the 70cm hole.”
Some good feedback from cave experts in Thailand. Iterating with them on an escape pod design that might be safe enough to try. Also building an inflatable tube with airlocks. Less likely to work, given tricky contours, but great if it does.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 7, 2018
Musk’s company, Boring Co, which digs tunnels for transport systems and has advanced ground-penetrating radar, is being utilised to help rescue the team.
Sky reports: One of the main working theories of how to retrieve the boys is to train them to dive out of the cave.
The boys are said to be in good health and have practised wearing diving masks and breathing in preparation for the potential complex dive.
However, the dive is complex – with one Navy SEAL dying during the rescue efforts – and many of the boys do not know how to swim.
Alternative options are being considered, including finding a shaft or drilling into the mountain in which the cave is located. Another option is to wait until the monsoon season ends in several months and for the waters trapping them to recede.