Elon Musk sends Thai engineer to join rescue mission, suggests tube network to get boys out

Rescuers continue to work inside Tham Luang cave Friday night.
PHOTO: The Nation/Asia News Network

US entrepreneur and tech expert Elon Musk has sent his Thai engineer to explore how to rescue the 12 footballers and their coach who are stranded in the flooded Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on Saturday.

Busadee Santiphithak, director-general of the Information Department, said the Thai engineer will later be joined by three more engineers from Musk’s Tesla, SpaceX and Boring companies to study rescue measures.

She said the three foreign engineers would arrive over Saturday night and Sunday and would travel to Tham Luang in Chiang Rai to consider digging a tunnel to evacuate the trapped boys.

The kids and coach have been stranded in the flooded cave since June 23.

READ ALSO: Trapped 13 express their feelings and food they're missing in first letters from cave

Alternative ways to evacuate the 12 stranded boys and their football coach from the Tham Luang cave have emerged, including one suggested by Musk.

Earlier, Thai authorities had planned to have all the 13 dive out of the cave, but the death of a former Thai Navy SEAL member early yesterday appears to have made planners reconsider their options.

Given the unprecedented challenge in this rescue effort, Musk said in one of his tweets that it maybe worth trying to build a one-metre-wide nylon tube network with a shorter set of tubes in the most difficult sections and then inflate the tubes with air to create something like a bouncy castle to transport the boys out of the cave.

The underwater air tunnel can be installed against the cave roof and can auto-conform to odd shapes like a 70cm hole, Musk wrote in his tweet in response to @JamesWorldSpace.

Bloomberg also reported that Musk’s representatives are discussing with Thai authorities on how they could help.

Musk’s SpaceX company has developed world-class technologies for space activities, while other companies founded by the US billionaire have built heavy-duty batteries for Tesla electric cars and other uses, as well as cutting-edge earth-drilling and boring machinery.

In addition, one of his companies reportedly has the technology for precision tracking to locate the area where the boys have been stranded for over a fortnight.

Chaiyaporn Siripornpaiboon, a cave expert at the Department of Mineral Resources, told The Nation that the cave’s floodwater level has become the most crucial factor in determining which option would be the most appropriate to rescue the stranded footballers.

The latest data shows that the most challenging section for the boys to dive out is about 200 metres long, next to the so-called Pattaya Beach where the floodwater is estimated to be 5-10 metres deep.

His comment came after a former Navy SEAL became the first fatality and revealed the dangers of trying to have the stranded boys dive out.

Chaiyaporn said he would prefer to see the floodwater subside to a much lower level to enable the boys to get out safely, but that chance was relatively low as the rainy season has only started.

Another option is to continue exploring for a natural cave shaft through which the boys could be airlifted so that they could avoid diving. So far, explorers have not been successful with this option.

All 13 members of Thai junior football team found in flooded cave

  • Parents of the boys trapped in the Chiang Rai cave shed tears of joy and relief on Wednesday morning as they watched a video of them being treated for minor injuries.
  • The Royal Thai Navy SEALS shot the video and posted it on their “ThaiSEAL” Facebook page, showing the 12 boys noticeably thinner and looking exhausted.
  • But the boys swaddled in silvery blankets proclaim themselves in good health in the clip.
  • Their parents watched the video while they were waiting to talk to the boys via a specially rigged phone system.
  • They reaffirmed their love for the children and said they were forgiven for going astray, since none of them could have expected the June 23 cave excursion would turn into a nail-biting 10-day drama, with no clear end yet in sight.
  • Attention has now turned to how to get the group back out through several kilometers of dangerously flooded tunnels.
  • The navy has raised the possibility that the 13 could be in the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province until the flood waters recede, at the end of the rainy season in four months.
  • But others say the boys could be out in a matter of days if the weather is on their side and water can be pumped out of the cave complex, and if they can be taught to use scuba gear.
  • Kobchai Boonarana, deputy director-general of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation department, said it was up to the rescue team in the cave to decide whether and when the boys would be strong enough to tackle the journey out.
  • “We miss them and want to see them get out very soon,” one parent said as the video played. “They look thinner, but we’re happy they’re safe.”
  • Rescuers found all 12 boys and their football coach alive inside the flooded Tham Luang Cave Monday night.
  • The 13 victims from a local football club, Mu Pa Academy Mae Sai, have been stranded inside the cave in Chiang Rai province because of flash floods since June 23.
  • The group, mostly seated and with baggy football shirts pulled over their knees and illuminated by torchlight, asked for food and to leave the cave immediately, according to the video taken late Monday and shared on the official Facebook page of the Thai Navy SEALS.
  • The group appeared exhausted, rake thin, sensitive to the light but lucid, with some speaking faltering English to try to communicate with the unidentified diver.
  • Family members celebrate while camping out near Than Luang cave following news all members of children's football team and their coach were alive in the cave at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province late July 2, 2018.
  • The Chiang Rai governor praised and gave credits to two British cave diving experts who found the missing team. He did not mention the names but it is understood to be John Volanthen and Richard Stanton (pic, in blue).
  • Three British cave-divers, Richard William Stanton (L), John Volanthen (2nd-L) and Robert Charles Harper (3rd-L) arrive at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park near the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai on June 27, 2018
  • 12 boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year old assistant football coach went missing on Saturday after they decided to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai province,
  • despite a sign warning visitors that the maze of passages and chambers was prone to flooding.
  • Bicycles and football shoes belonging to the boys were found near the entrance, and rescue workers think handprints inside the cave could have been left by the group.
  • But the search has so far yielded no other trace.
  • The race to find the boys has gripped the Southeast Asian nation
  • International rescue teams, including one sent by the United States Pacific Command (PACOM),
  • are assisting the Thai army, navy and police in a search operation that has been hampered by heavy rain.
  • Plans to drill into the mountainside overnight to drain water from inside the vast cave complex have been partially successful.
  • The 10-kilometre cave is one of Thailand's longest. Visitors are usually only allowed up to 800 meters inside the cave, which has a reputation for being difficult to navigate.
  • Exhausted family members have been keeping vigil near the cave as they await news about their loved ones.
  • Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited the site, offering encouragement to rescuers and comfort to relatives.
  • "Whatever can be done, do it, the government will back it," said Prayuth.
  • "They're athletes. They're strong," he told the boys' relatives in an attempt to comfort them.

Thanasarn Narue-sataporn, a medical doctor with experience in rescuing people hit by natural disasters, including the last Nepal earthquake, said the cave’s floodwater level is most crucial so authorities have to closely watch the situation around the clock and make their rescue decision in a timely manner.

He said the Tham Luang challenge is unique – unlike any other rescue effort around the world – especially in terms of the number of young people trapped inside a complicated cave network.

In similar cases in Germany or France, only a small number of adult caving experts or trekkers were trapped, but in the Thai case they are boys aged between 11 to 16 and their 25-year-old coach.

While a huge amount of water has been pumped out over the past several days, the cave’s floodwater level remains high due to the area’s mountainous nature.

Authorities are worried about a worst-case scenario where heavy downpour for an extended period in the area could lead to complete flooding inside the cave, including the area currently occupied by the boys and more than 10 Navy SEAL members.

Dr Suttisak Soralump of Kasetsart University said earlier that the Tham Luang challenge is also much more difficult than the 2010 Chilean mine collapse in terms of the attempt to drill the cave to rescue those trapped inside.

In the Chilean case, 33 miners were trapped underground for 69 days but all survived. Suttisak said the Tham Luang cave being totally natural, there is not enough geological data for engineers to work out a solution.

In the Chilean mine case, the site was fully explored prior to the collapse with a lot of data available for rescuers to design their options to get the miners out safely.

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