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Rescuers in Thai cave complex
Rescuers work on their equipment inside a Thai cave complex where a dozen boys and their soccer coach are trapped. (National News Bureau of Thailand)

Billionaire techie Elon Musk is sending a team of engineers from SpaceX and the Boring Company to help with the increasingly desperate effort to rescue a dozen boys and their soccer coach from a waterlogged cave in Thailand.

The soccer team became trapped in the Tham Luang cave complex nearly two weeks ago when floods from a sudden downpour hemmed them in. Divers were able to reach the boys on Monday, perched on a rock slab above the water level. But on Thursday, one of the volunteer rescuers died during an hours-long dive to deliver oxygen to the group.

One of Musk’s fans tweeted out a plea this week for Musk to pitch in. Musk agreed to put on his thinking cap, and eventually to do more than think about it. James Yenbamroong, the founder of Thailand’s mu Space satellite startup, facilitated contacts with the Thai government.

Here’s how it all went down on Twitter:

Musk’s “bouncy castle” rescue tube is just one of the ideas in the mix. Others include trying to drill a hole into the cave chamber from above; clearing away rock debris from what may be a back entrance to the chamber; and teaching the soccer team how to scuba-dive.

NASA Watch passed along yet another suggestion from Homer Hickam, the former NASA engineer who wrote the book “October Sky.” Hickam said the divers could deliver people-sized rescue balls modeled after NASA’s Personal Rescue Enclosures, or PREs. The trapped teammates would be sealed within the watertight balls, one at a time, and pulled through the cave tunnel to safety.

“It would be great if someone knowledgeable of the PRE at NASA (probably at JSC) could dust one of these things off and see if our agency could help this rather desperate situation, if not with the PRE, then other rescue devices we may have on hand or quickly fabricated,” Hickam wrote.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, but not dangerously desperate. The bouncy castle and the rescue balls pose huge risks, particularly if there’s little time for testing.

It may well turn out that the best solution is the judicious use of tried-and-true debris removal techniques. But at the very least, the suggestions show that some of the world’s most innovative minds — and the internet’s hive mind — are on the case.

Update for 1:40 p.m. PT July 6: The planning continues via Twitter:

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