Elon Musk Has A Plan To Help Rescue The Thai Youth Soccer Team From The Cave

Musk first pitched the idea on Twitter — now he's sending two engineers to Thailand.

Tech magnate Elon Musk has joined the global effort to help free a group of young Thai soccer players from the dangerous cave in Thailand where the boys have been trapped since June 23.

After nine days inside the cave, the 12 boys and their soccer coach were found by two British divers who were helping the Royal Thai Navy in its rescue efforts. While the discovery was celebrated, a daunting reality quickly came to light: getting the boys out would be incredibly difficult. 

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Tham Luang Nang cave, where the boys are trapped, is a six-mile maze of passageways, many of which have been flooded because of the monsoon rains currently pummeling Thailand. Getting to the boys was a challenge even for the world's best divers. One former member of the Thai navy who was volunteering has already died during rescue operations. Since some of the boys can't swim, and none have ever scuba dived, getting them out before the water recedes may be impossible, Thai officials say. But it may take as long as four months for water levels to come down to a point where the boys walk out without having to swim. 

And that's where Musk may come in.

On Friday morning, he tweeted out a proposal that included sending a tube or series of tubes through the cave that could be inflated, that way the boys could climb through the tunnels without having to learn to scuba dive. 

"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," he tweeted. "Should create an air tunnel underwater against cave roof & auto-conform to odd shapes like the 70cm hole."

Musk said that an aerospace engineer from his company SpaceX and another engineer from his tunnel-construction company Boring Company were headed to Thailand on Saturday to see if they could assist the rescue teams. 

While it's unclear if Musk's idea will be considered, there's plenty of reason to be skeptical. One Twitter user noted the narrowness of the cave in some areas would be a problem, where diameters are already as small as 28 inches. Musk also suggested pumping water out to make room for the tubes as a solution to getting them into smaller areas, but rescue workers have already been doing that — so much, in fact, that the excess waters have flooded nearby farms.

With Musk's engineers on the way, the rescue workers are running out of time. Oxygen levels in the cave are falling rapidly, and the Thai Navy Seal who died trying to get to the boys was attempting to deliver much-needed oxygen tanks. More rain is expected in the coming weeks and officials are worried the water levels could rise even more — long before the boys can be taught to dive well enough to get out of the cave. It has taken some rescue workers six hours to reach the boys despite their experience diving.

If Musk's plan doesn't work, there could be other ways he can help. Rescue workers have struggled to pump enough water out of the cave to allow the boys to walk out, and Musk suggested he may be able to assist there, too.

"Don't know if pump rate is limited by electric power or pumps are too small," he said. "If so, could dropship fully charged Powerpacks and pumps."

He also noted that the Boring company "has advanced ground penetrating radar & is pretty good at digging holes," which could help the rescue workers reach the boys. 

Since the boys' story became a global phenomenon, people have poured into Thailand to help the soccer team. Along with the British divers who helped discover the boys, more than 2,000 volunteers have come to offer equipment, skills and their own expertise to the rescue mission, Reuters reported. Danish, British, Australian, German and American volunteers were among those who arrived on the scene to help.

Cover image via DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images.

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