The rescue of the Thai football team from a flooded cave was a mini-saga that had the world holding its breath. Everyone wondered not only could they be saved, but how, and Elon Musk thought he had the answer in a submersible he built on-the-spot. As fate would have it, by the time Musk arrived with his sub, the rescue was basically over. There was nothing for his submarine to do but sit on dry land and become an eventual gift to the Thai SEAL Teams. Not everyone was impressed with his effort, however.
The early buzz on the ground was that it didn’t seem like Musk’s sub would work if it had been tried out in the cave. This was a concern that some experienced divers had expressed before the submersible was even built. There was never any talk of the actual logistics of it operating in the cavernous environment, just that it was on the way with Musk.
Diver Vern Unsworth, who was instrumental in the rescue of the team and their coach, has echoed those early concerns and went a little farther than just saying that the submersible wouldn’t work. He wasn’t the only one on the scene that was critical of Musk’s sub. Mediaite reported that Unsworth had some choice words for Musk.
“He can stick his submarine where it hurts. 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 rescue mission chief said that although the submersible might be useful in later missions, for this one, it wasn’t practical. Maj. Gen. Chalongchai Chaiyakham said it was a fine vessel for open water work, but not suited for caves, as reported by the Independent. Narongsak Osottanakorn, head of the search operation, echoed the same sentiments, according to the New York Times.
“I assure you that the equipment he brought to help us is not practical for our mission. Even though the equipment has state of the art technology, it does not fit our mission in the cave.”
Most people believe that Musk had the best intentions, but the best intentions don’t always translate to the best solution. Even a fair portion of his critics are quick to point out he had engineers working on something new to them at break-neck speed. They did the best they could with the materials and information they had. While their hard work didn’t payoff this time, it doesn’t mean the submersible won’t be useful, and potentially lifesaving later.