A British diver who was instrumental in rescuing a schoolboy football team from a flooded cave in Thailand has told Elon Musk to “stick his submarine where it hurts”, describing the entrepreneur’s offer to help the mission with a miniature submersible a “PR stunt”.
Vern Unsworth said a six-foot submarine the SpaceX boss invented and handed to the rescue team “had absolutely no chance of working” because the billionaire inventor “had no conception of what the cave passage was like”.
Mr Musk travelled to the Tham Luang caverns in Chiang Rai earlier this week and presented the “kid sized” vessel, which he said could help free 12 schoolboys stranded for weeks inside the network of waterlogged tunnels with their coach.
The chief of the rescue mission described the device as “not practical” for the operation, which required squeezing the boys through tight, jagged passageways. All 13 were later rescued by divers without Mr Musk’s help, although Thai authorities said the submarine may be come in useful for future missions.
The Tesla founder insisted his submarine would have been able to navigate the narrow tunnels, and said the former Thai provincial governor who rejected his technology was “not the subject matter expert”.
But Mr Unsworth described Musk’s offer to help as “just a PR stunt”.
“He can stick his submarine where it hurts,” he told CNN. “It had absolutely no chance of working. He had no conception of what the cave passage was like.
“The submarine, I believe, was about five foot six long, rigid, so it wouldn’t have gone round corners or round any obstacles.
“It wouldn’t have made the first 50 metres into the cave from the dive start point. Just a PR stunt.”
The experienced cave explorer said Musk was “asked to leave very quickly” after he turned up at the caverns during the rescue operation on Tuesday.
“And so he should have been,” he added.
Mr Unsworth, who is from St Albans but lives in Chaing Rai, had been planning to go caving at Tham Luang on the day it emerged the Wild Boars team were trapped inside.
“I got all my gear ready, and I was going in to do a solo trip just to see what the water levels were like,” he said. “And I got called out at two o’clock Sunday morning, and I was there for the whole 17 days.”
Mr Unsworth’s intimate knowledge of the cave system, which he described as “second home” after spending six years exploring it, proved pivotal in the rescue mission.
He pinpointed the location where believed the team would have taken refuge, and they were later found 200 metres away from that spot.
Mr Unsworth also put Thai authorities in touch with three British experienced divers who were the first to find the Wild Boars, 1.5 miles inside the caverns.
“They went straight into the cave,” he added. “That’s when things started to really happen.
“It was a race against time. They needed world class divers and that’s what we got.”
Mr Unsworth said the schoolboys and their coach could not have predicted the flooding, as waters gushed into the cave more than three weeks earlier than last year.
“These kids were just totally unlucky. Wrong place, wrong time,” he added. “It happened very quick. You can’t blame the coach, you can’t blame the kids.”
The last four team members and their coach were brought out of the Tham Luang cave, near the border with Myanmar, on Tuesday night, bringing to an end a perilous rescue mission which transfixed the world.
All are recovering well from the ordeal and will be discharged from hospital next week, Thailand’s health minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn said on Saturday.
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