How The Tham Luang Cave Rescue Turned Into A PR Nightmare For Elon Musk

In 2018, 12 boys and their soccer coach went exploring in the Tham Luang cave system in Thailand when they were trapped some 6 miles underground, as the BBC reports. The subsequent two-week rescue mission, dubbed the Tham Luang cave rescue, captured headlines worldwide. A dramatized account of the true story, "Thirteen Lives," directed by Ron Howard, premiered on August 4 on Amazon Prime (via IMDb).

Involved in that rescue effort was U.S. tech guru Elon Musk. Musk offered a mini-sub his team designed specifically to help rescue the young boys and their coach from the hard-to-reach cave system (per BBC), but all those trapped in the Tham Luang cave system were safely freed by divers without his help, as Vox explains. That fact aside, what at first seemed like a commendable gesture on Musk's part soon turned into a PR nightmare for the Tesla Motors and SpaceX executive.

He announced his intentions on Twitter

With time at a premium, Elon Musk made public his plan for his team to quickly design a mini-sub to help rescue the young soccer players and their coach. On July 6, 2018, just days after the Thai children and their coach were trapped, Musk tweeted that engineers from his company were headed to Thailand. One day later, he outlined his plans for a small mini-sub that could be carried by divers and transport the children to safety.

To Musk's credit, his team designed, built, and tested the mini-sub in a matter of hours and had it in Thailand less than one day later, but it was never used, as Vox notes. Musk's efforts were also not equally welcomed by everyone involved in the effort. Notably, Vernon Unsworth, a U.K. caver involved in the operation, characterized Musk's involvement as a PR stunt to CNN. In response to Unsworth's comment, Musk lashed out on Twitter, as Vox reports.

Musk called Unsworth a 'pedo guy'

Angered by Vernon Unsworth's CNN comment, Elon Musk referred to the British cave-diver on Twitter as a "pedo guy." In addition to calling Musk's rescue plan a PR stunt, Unsworth also said (via CNN) that Musk "can stick his submarine where it hurts," a comment the tech executive said he took to be sexual, as he later explained on Twitter. Unsworth, Musk tweeted, "suggested I engage in a sexual act with the mini-sub, which had been built as an act of kindness & according to specifications from the dive team leader."

When Elon Musk tweets, it sometimes gets widely reported, as was the case with Musk's tweet calling Unsworth "pedo guy." Musk later apologized, saying (via Vox), "I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone." Unsworth sued Musk for defamation one year later but lost the case, according to the BBC

A trailer for Amazon Prime's "Thirteen Lives" is available to watch now on YouTube.