Engineers from companies led by Elon Musk, the billionaire known for outside-the-box ideas like his aspiration to colonize Mars, were en route to Thailand on Saturday to offer their expertise to help rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand.
The engineers were sent from Tesla, Musk’s electric vehicle company; SpaceX, his rocket company; and the Boring Co., which specializes in tunneling and construction, a Boring Co. spokesman said.
There are two or three engineers on the ground in Thailand, with more on the way, the spokesman said. He said representatives from the companies were in discussions with the Thai government about how they could help.
On Twitter, Musk has mused about potential inventions that could help the trapped soccer team, including a miniature submarine made from part of a SpaceX rocket.
Edgar Choueiri, a professor at Princeton University who specializes in rocket research, said Musk’s submarine idea suggested that he imagined the Falcon rocket’s hollow transfer tube — which helps move liquid oxygen to fuel the rocket’s engine — would be the appropriate size to transfer the boys out of the flooded cave.
“I would never bet against Elon Musk,” Choueiri said.
Others were not as confident.
Greg Moore, a regional director for the National Cave Rescue Commission, said most rescues prompt ideas that are not necessarily practical. Musk’s submarine would likely have trouble fitting through the narrowest passageways, he said.
Earlier, Musk had suggested a nylon tube that would inflate like a bouncy castle to form an underwater air tunnel.
The boys were trapped in the cave for 10 days before a group of cave divers discovered them alive last week. Rescuers are worried about diminishing oxygen levels in the cavern where they have taken refuge, as well as monsoon rains that could push water levels even higher.
On Friday, a former Thai navy diver lost consciousness and died while placing oxygen canisters on a route within the cave being used in the rescue effort.
This is not Musk’s first foray into emergency assistance. After Hurricane Maria caused devastating power outages in Puerto Rico, Tesla provided batteries to help keep the lights on.