BANGKOK/WASHINGTON (AFP, WASHINGTON POST) - A British caver who helped rescue 12 boys from a Thai cave said Monday (July 16) he may take legal action against Tesla CEO Elon Musk after the entrepreneur called him a “pedo”.
Musk launched the extraordinary tirade against Vernon Unsworth without providing any justification or explanation, after the cave expert slammed his offer of a miniature submarine to extract the footballers from the Tham Luang cave as a “PR stunt”.
The Silicon Valley engineer and billionaire was briefly seen in Thailand last week, hauling the submarine to the mouth of the cave just before an international dive team rescued the boys without it.
Musk had previously defended his invention, showing off an e-mail of himself corresponding with one of the British divers involved in the rescue and claiming that the Thai official overseeing the efforts had not been in charge.
Unsworth, who provided mapping knowledge of the cave to rescuers, had told CNN in an interview Musk’s prototype would have had “absolutely no chance of working”.
"He can stick his submarine where it hurts," Unsworth said. "It just had absolutely no chance of working. He had no conception of what the cave passage was like."
Like other critics, Unsworth noted that the flooded tunnel was extremely narrow and twisted. "The submarine, I believe was about five, six feet long. Rigid," he said. "So it wouldn't have gone around corners or around any obstacles. It wouldn't have made it the first 50 metres."
Unsworth then claimed that Musk had been quickly asked to leave the cave during his much-tweeted-about visit.
Musk responded Sunday in a bizarre series of tweets referring to Unsworth without using his name as “pedo guy”. “Pedo” is short for paedophile.
He then doubled down on the claim, tweeting from his official account to more than 22 million followers: “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true”.
Musk later deleted the tweets and did not immediately respond to a request for comment through Tesla.
Unsworth told AFP on Monday he had not reviewed the tweets in full and had only heard about them.
Asked if he would take legal action against Musk over the allegation, Unsworth said: “If it’s what I think it is yes.” The caver told AFP he would make a decision when he flies back to Britain this week, but said the episode with Musk “ain’t finished”.
“He’s just a PR stunt merchant – that’s all he is,” Unsworth added.
Unsworth, who lives part of the year in Thailand, took part in the gargantuan 18-day effort to retrieve the 12 boys and their coach, a mission that ended on July 10 when the last five members were extracted.
The boys got stuck in the cave after wandering in on June 23 after football practice only to find themselves trapped by rising floodwaters.
They were found nine days later on a muddy embankment several kilometres inside.
The unprecedented operation to haul them out involved sedating the footballers and swimming and carrying them through tight, waterlogged passages.
The boys are all in good health and expected to be released from the hospital Thursday.
Musk’s tweets prompted condemnation from those who took part in the mission to save the boys.
Claus Rasmussen, a Danish national and instructor at Blue Label diving in Phuket, called the allegations “inappropriate” and praised Unsworth’s role in the rescue.
“He was the guy who effectively mapped most of that cave,” he told AFP. “He was one of the driving forces in getting everything done and clarifying for us divers what was going on.”
Musk had earlier provoked condemnation after tweeting that the Thai rescue chief, who had declined the submarine prototype offer, was not really in charge of the operation.
Musk co-founded the e-commerce site PayPal and later built rocket ships through SpaceX and electric cars through Tesla. He has been alternately hailed as a visionary or derided as a showboater for pitching ideas to begin colonising Mars next decade, or build highways under Los Angeles, or create a website to rate the credibility of journalists who report on problems at his electric car company.