Inflatable tubes? Watertight pouches? Anxious Twitterverse pitches ideas to rescue Thai soccer team

The mission to rescue the 12 young soccer players and their coach in Thailand has captured the world's attention since the group went missing on June 23 and was found trapped in a cave nine days later. Good Samaritans on social media are even proposing innovative ideas to try to help the effort.

Not all ideas suggested on social media, however well-meaning, are helpful or feasible, expert says

Thai divers gather before they enter the Tham Luang cave in Thailand, where 12 boys and their soccer coach remain trapped. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

The mission to rescue the 12 young soccer players and their coach in Chiang Rai, Thailand, has captured the world's attention since the group went missing on June 23 and was found trapped in a cave nine days later.

On social media, people across the world are expressing their support for the increasingly desperate effort and are even pitching solutions as Thai rescuers race to pump water out of the partially flooded Tham Luang cave system before a week of expected rainfall.

The timeline for the rescue remains unclear as officials continue to monitor water levels. Authorities are exploring several options, including finding other entrances to the cave and teaching the boys to dive — most of the group reportedly cannot swim

CBC reported that as of Friday, the boys, ages 11 to 16, were not ready to dive. Oxygen levels are decreasing because of the number of rescue workers in the cave.

People following the developments online have offered alternative suggestions to diving, including, for example, deploying inflatable tubes.

Matt Mandziuk, a professional cave-diving instructor in St. Catharines, Ont., with 18 years' experience, said not all ideas suggested on social media, however well-meaning, are helpful or feasible.

He says a dry tunnel made up of inflatable tubes would be "the most amazing thing in the world," but it's probably not a realistic option.

"I don't know how they would do that," he said. "But that would be fantastic."

Another suggestion on Twitter was to sedate members of the team while rescue divers swim them to safety. The theory being that sedatives can produce a relaxing effect, slow breathing and help prevent panic.

But Mandziuk says that option is too risky. Irregular breathing is a common way divers injure themselves. 

"They can basically over pressurize their lungs and rupture their lungs if they don't have somebody there deflating their lungs for them as they are going shallower," Mandziuk said. 

Tech billionaire and inventor Elon Musk weighed in on social media and sent a team of engineers to aid in the rescue mission after the death of a former Thai SEAL diver, Saman Gunan, on Friday. Gunan died after losing consciousness underwater while delivering extra oxygen tanks to the cave.

Musk took to Twitter to suggest creating an airtight, inflatable tunnel.

Jill Heinerth, explorer in residence at the Royal Canadian Geographical Society west of Ottawa, says potential solutions need to be evaluated based on risk and feasibility.

"A diverse, open-minded team is critical to success," she said in an email. "Elon Musk has money, gear, an imagination and a belief that nothing is impossible. His input might sound crazy to some, but could foster successful ideas and collaboration with others."

As officials decide upon the best way to rescue the team and their coach, messages of hope continue to be posted online.

Mario Sepulveda, one of the 33 miners trapped underground in the Chilean mining accident in 2010, shared this video on Twitter.

Translated from Spanish, the description says: "With the help and strength of the Thai government and the whole world! Let us pray for those 12 children to leave as soon as possible!"

Mandziuk agrees it's important to keep praying for the team.

"I think the courage that these kids have shown, and the coach has shown, has been just amazing and their resilience to stay alive and survive — I mean they are incredible."



Annie Rueter is an intern with CBC News. She is completing a Master of Journalism at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and reports on a wide range of topics, including arts and politics. Connect with her on Twitter: @annierueter1

With files from Emily Chung