Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk accused one of the British divers involved in the rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from the flooded Tham Luang cave complex of being a pedophile on Saturday in retaliation for questioning Musk’s contributions to the rescue effort.
CNN reported that the diver in question, Chiang Rai resident Vern Unsworth, played a critical role in not only finding the 13 members of the trapped soccer team but spent 17 days in the complex helping extract them alongside other specialist cave divers. Unsworth told CNN in an interview that the custom-made “submarine”—really more of an air-filled tube—Musk personally delivered to the cave complex was worthless and could play no role in a rescue attempt. (Thai authorities had already called the device “not practical with our mission.”)
“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. 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 it the first 50 meters into the cave from the dive start point,” Unsworth concluded. “Just a PR stunt... He was asked to leave very quickly, and so he should have been.”
In a series of tweets responding to Unsworth’s criticism, Musk referred to Unsworth’s “British expat guy who lives in Thailand” as “sus” (suspicious) and said he had never seen him at the cave complex. Musk challenged Unsworth’s accounting of the water levels in the cave, then got even angrier, explicitly calling Unsworth a “pedo guy” and saying he would prove the device’s utility by, uh, sending more people into the cave with it.
Musk further questioned the allegation of a PR stunt, saying he had repeatedly declined to help until the death of former Royal Thai Navy special operations diver Saman Gunan in the cave. Then he doubled down again on his accusation that Unsworth is a pedophile, replying to another Twitter user, “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.”
The billionaire CEO’s behavior has been erratic for a while now, from mass-emailing staff to be “extremely vigilant” amid the possibility of “sabotage” at Tesla’s Fremont, California production plant, to that time he cited a blog run by an alleged sex cult as an example of “excellent” journalism. That said, accusing the diver that found 13 people trapped in a cave and worked to save them for over two weeks of being a pedophile—just for having the temerity to criticize his unused submarine—could be safely called a new low.
Some advice for Elon that doesn’t cost as much as a defamation suit: Log off, do not pass go, and do not send any more people back into that cave to prove your point.
“Just to get any of them out alive would have been a miracle,” Unsworth told CNN. “But to get 13 out of 13 ... won’t happen again... biggest miracle ever.”
Gizmodo has reached out to Tesla and SpaceX for comment, as well as Musk personally, and we’ll update this post if we hear back.
Update, July 15th, 2018, at 5:30pm ET: Musk has apparently deleted the tweets after they resulted in widespread media coverage (as well as anger and mockery). No word yet as to further developments or whether the CEO just kind of considers that the end of it.
Correction: This post originally identified the Tesla plant in Fremont as being in Fresno. We regret the error.