Tesla CEO Elon Musk has renewed his attacks against a British man who played a key role in the rescue of a youth soccer team trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand.
Musk last month apologized for accusing Vernon Unsworth of pedophilia after the diver questioned the value of Musk’s contribution to the rescue, a small submarine that ultimately went unused. But in a series of emails to BuzzFeed News, Musk repeated his original attacks on Unsworth — and made new and specific claims, lambasting the rescuer as a “child rapist” who had moved to the Southeast Asian country to take a child bride. Unsworth denied Musk's accusations through his attorney.
“I suggest that you call people you know in Thailand, find out what’s actually going on and stop defending child rapists, you fucking asshole,” Musk wrote in the first message. “He’s an old, single white guy from England who’s been traveling to or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years, mostly Pattaya Beach, until moving to Chiang Rai for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time.”
“As for this alleged threat of a lawsuit, which magically appeared when I raised the issue (nothing was sent or raised beforehand), I fucking hope he sues me,” he added.
It is unclear why Musk believes the allegations against Unsworth or what evidence he has to support them. Musk did not provide proof of his claims to BuzzFeed News, and BuzzFeed News could not verify any of the claims after reporting on Unsworth’s background.
BuzzFeed News also spoke with Woranan Ratrawiphukkun, a Thai woman who is Unsworth’s longtime girlfriend. She said she had been with Unsworth for more than seven years and has posted numerous photos about their relationship on social media dating back several years. Unsworth, she added, spends part of the year in Thailand and part of the time in the UK.
Ratrawiphukkun, who said she is 40, declined to comment on Musk’s allegations against Unsworth, and referred a reporter to his lawyers.
Among Musk’s other claims about Unsworth is that he was not part of the actual dive team in the Thailand cave rescue. While Unsworth did not dive for the mission, media reports and other people who were part of the rescue cited the Brit as instrumental to the effort, as he had previously mapped and explored some of the cave system and recruited some of the divers who went into the cave.
“He may claim to know how to cave dive, but he wasn’t on the cave dive rescue team and most of the actual dive team refused to hang out with him,” Musk wrote in one email. In another email in which Musk wrote “on background” — BuzzFeed News again did not agree to these terms — the Tesla CEO said, “Never saw Unsworth at any point. Was told he was banned from the site.”
A British diver on the rescue mission who had previously been in contact with Musk, Rick Stanton, denied those claims.
“I've no idea what gave you those concerns about Vern,” Stanton wrote over Facebook Messenger. “They are completely unfounded. He was never kicked off site by anyone and worked continuously on the rescue for the full duration. He was pivotal to the entire operation.”
Two Australian specialists who were brought in by the Thai government to aid the Thai cave rescue operation, Richard Harris and Craig Challen, also rejected Musk’s allegation.
“Vern seemed like an excellent guy and absolutely vital to the mission,” said Harris, who, with Challen, helped in the sedation of the Thai boys before they were brought out of the cave by the British divers. “You must be confusing him with someone else.”
“He was pivotal with his knowledge of the cave. [The] rescue wouldn’t have happened without him recommending the Brits were called,” Harris said.
Photos and videos posted on Facebook by Woranan and members of the local Thai news media show Unsworth at the site through the duration of the operation, which lasted more than two weeks in the country’s Chiang Rai province. Some of those photos show Unsworth posing with other British members involved with the rescue.