Not-SpaceX Shows Up as Cave Rescue Becomes Circus

Pairoj Toongtong, who owns a hotel and night markets, arrived Saturday to propose a lower-tech version of Elon Musk's already unlikely plan.
Pairoj Toongtong, who owns a hotel and night markets, arrived Saturday to propose a lower-tech version of Elon Musk's already unlikely plan.

By Todd Ruiz and Jintamas Saksornchai

CHIANG RAI — When someone showed up with a plan to free the cave 13 through an inflatable tunnel Saturday, it wasn’t one of the SpaceX brainiacs.

The day after news spread that billionaire American futurist Elon Musk was dispatching SpaceX engineers with an innovative plan, a wealthy Bangkok hotel owner and former politician showed up to announce a remarkably similar idea.

Read: Rescued! First Two Boys Rescued From Cave

But his version involved a “canvas inflation tube,” which he claimed could be inserted into the cave to create a flood-free tunnel for the kids to crawl and walk out.

“The only problem is that this thing needs an air pump. If we can’t get an air pump in there we have to connect it with a hose similar to what they do in mines,” said Pairoj Toongtong, founder of the Bazaar Hotel and a chain of night markets. “Imagine it like pumping a car tire. When we pump air in a car tire it can carry like 2 to 6 tons.”

He said it hasn’t been tested in a field and he’s never set foot in the cave. He arrived sporting a VIP badge and the blessing of tourism minister Wirasak Kowsoorad.

Pairoj was one of many new people to show up at an already crowded site as the story has captured world attention, concern – and its share of hucksters.

Tourism Minister Wirasak, who also arrived today, was said to be planning a photo op of him cleaning a toilet.

The already massive media presence also mushroomed Saturday, with the authorities responding by stepping up security and containment efforts.

More privacy screening has gone up around spaces used by rescue personnel to block filming.

In recent days, a few scrums have broken out between reporters jostling for position.

At 5:30pm, a monk said to be respected by the mystic Krooba Boonchum arrived and entered the cave to perform another ritual.

There has been no word today on the SpaceX initiative, which proposed building an inflatable tunnel.

It remains unclear how an inflatable tunnel could be run through the treacherous passages when it has taken days to run a small air hose part of the way.

The Thai Consul in Los Angeles said the SpaceX personnel would be among the expert teams arriving tonight and tomorrow.

SpaceX and Tesla Motors owner Elon Musk nonetheless tweeted that he now had a new plan: escape pods.

“Some good feedback from cave experts in Thailand. Iterating with them on an escape pod design that might be safe enough to try. Also building an inflatable tube with airlocks. Less likely to work, given tricky contours, but great if it does,” Musk wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile frantic efforts by hundreds of soldiers, navy SEAL divers, foreign experts and volunteers are unfolding with sharp urgency and the likelihood of an attempt to bring the 12 boys and their coach out as soon as today.