All 12 Thai Boys Rescued from Cave Without Help from Elon Musk’s ‘Impractical’ Submarine

Elon Musk traveled inside the cave system that trapped the boys to deposit his rescue submarine, even though Thai official said it was “not practical” to use.
July 10, 2018, 1:12pm
Image: Getty

Update: In response to reports that his device wasn't wanted by Thai officials, Musk posted an email conversation between himself and Richard Stanton, the British diver who first discovered the Thai soccer team in the cave. Musk said Osottanakorn "is not the subject matter expert" and the emails show that Stanton encouraged Musk to keep working on the device, writing "if the rain holds out it may well be used."

On Tuesday morning, the Associated Press reported that all 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach had been successfully rescued from the flooded cave system where they had been trapped for weeks. Remarkably, only a single death resulted from the recovery efforts after a rescue diver ran out of air while leaving oxygen tanks along the escape route.

This brings an end to a two-week saga that dominated front page headlines in papers around the globe. The public relations opportunity was not lost on Elon Musk, who announced his intention to build a “kid-sized” submarine from rocket parts to aid in rescue efforts last weekend. Shortly thereafter, Musk dispatched employees from SpaceX and the Boring company to Thailand to appraise the situation on the ground.


As the world waited anxiously for rescue efforts to commence last weekend, Musk flooded social media timelines with videos of divers in a pool in Los Angeles pulling the ad hoc rescue submarine through an obstacle course. The submarine was made from a liquid oxygen transfer tube used in SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. The tube was modified with dual oxygen tanks strapped to its side to provide air to the occupant and Musk even mused about the possibility of piping music into the chamber to calm the child inside.

The mini-submarine was undoubtedly a remarkable engineering feat given the short turnaround period, but Thai officials said they had little use for the device.

“The equipment he gave us is not practical for our mission,” said Narongsak Osottanakorn, head of the Thai rescue operations. “His equipment is technologically complex and advanced, but we cannot bring it into the cave for this mission.”

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The remark came after Musk met with leaders of the Thai rescue effort on Monday night. Shortly thereafter, he posted images and video from inside Cave 3 to social media. This cave was used as a staging area for the rescue divers that extracted the soccer team from deeper inside the cave system. He said he left the submarine in the cave “in case it may be useful in the future.”

The Thai kids were rescued with a relatively low tech solution that mostly relies on the extraordinary bravery and talents of the divers and the kids. The divers managed to extract the soccer team by giving them a full face oxygen mask and attaching the child to the divers as they navigated the narrow passages of the cave system.