As rescuers race against the clock trying to free 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a Thai cave, tech billionaire Elon Musk has offered to send help.
On Friday, Musk took to Twitter saying engineers from his companies, SpaceX and the Boring Company, are headed to Thailand to help aid the rescue of the soccer team, who have been stuck in the Tham Luang cave system in the in the northern Chiang Rai province for almost two weeks.
The Thai government confirmed that Musk’s engineers will arrive on Saturday at the Chiang Rai province on its Facebook page.
“Elon Musk will send his team to Thailand tomorrow (7th July) to help in cave rescue. He may provide services for location tracking, water pumping or battery power,” read the statement.
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, went missing with their 25-year-old coach after training on June 23, when they set out to explore the caves in the forest park.
Musk’s support comes after a former Thai Navy SEAL working in the flooded cave died when he ran out of oxygen while underwater Friday — highlighting the danger of the mission. Forecasts for more rain also could undermine the draining of the cave, putting pressure on resources to create alternate plans to extract the boys before floodwaters rise any higher.
So what are the options to rescue the soccer team?
Musk’s air tunnel idea
Although Musk acknowledged there are many complexities to the rescue mission, he did throw around some ideas on Twitter.
One of the ideas involves inserting a one-metre nylon tube through the cave network and inflating it with air like a “bouncy castle,” he said.
Musk also explored the idea of whether The Boring Company could help rescue efforts using its “advanced ground penetrating radar,” as well as supplying “fully charged Powerpacks and pumps” to help drain the cave.
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. Should create an air tunnel underwater against cave roof & auto-conform to odd shapes like the 70cm hole.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 6, 2018
Drilling a rescue shaft
Engineers are working with the army to explore an area they believe to be the back end of the cave, chiselling away fragile limestone rocks that could be just hundreds of metres from where the boys are trapped.
Backhoes and drilling equipment have been sent to the mountain, but creating a shaft large enough to extract the boys would be extremely complicated and could take a long time. It also raises concerns that parts of the cave could collapse on the boys.
Draining the flooded cave and diving
Diving would be the fastest, but arguably most dangerous, extraction method.
Huge volumes of water are being pumped out of the cave complex each day, but the narrow, winding passages inside are still flooded, meaning diving through the murky water is currently the only way in and out.
Since British divers found the team on Monday, rescuers have focused on draining the flooded cave and teaching the boys – some of whom are as young as 11 – to attempt dives that would challenge expert cavers.
The children are currently being taught how to use diving gear but according to local media, none of the 12 children can swim.
If the rescuers do use this method, they will use a rope attached to the cave walls to help guide each boy through completely flooded chambers and those with air pockets. Extra oxygen tanks would be left along the way and glow sticks would also help light the path.
WATCH: How risky is it to bring the trapped boys out by SCUBA diving?
Waiting it out
This would involve bringing food and other supplies to the boys and waiting for water levels to drop, naturally or by pumping out water, or until rescuers can find or create another exit. This could take anywhere from days to weeks to even months as the rainy season typically lasts through October.
However, with rains expected over the weekend, it could raise water levels in the cave again and complicate the supply missions or any potential extrication.
What are the risks?
The muddy bank where the boys are stranded is around four kilometres from the front entrance of the cave, with sections of the final 1.7-kilometre stretch completely underwater.
The water flow is also very strong in some parts of the cave and visibility is challenging due to the mugginess, making it difficult to navigate the dark, flooded tunnels.
The journey to safety is further complicated by health issues, as two boys and their coach are reportedly suffering from exhaustion due to malnutrition.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters