Elon Musk will get no apology from caver who scoffed at Thai ‘PR stunt’

Elon Musk arrives at court
Tesla CEO Elon Musk arrives at U.S. District Court on Wednesday in Los Angeles.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Elon Musk won’t get an apology from a British cave expert who called the Tesla Inc. chief executive’s effort to use a mini-submarine to rescue soccer players trapped in a Thai cave a PR stunt.

“I’m not sure how I need to apologize,” the caver, Vernon Unsworth, told a jury in Los Angeles on Thursday. “My opinion, as I sit here today, is it was a PR stunt.”

Angered by the comment Unsworth first made in a television interview, Musk responded on Twitter by calling the caver a “pedo guy.”


Unsworth sued Musk over the tweet, which the CEO told the jury was “a flippant, off-the-cuff insult.” Musk apologized on Twitter, and again during the trial, which began Tuesday.

Musk and engineers at his companies prepared the mini-submarine to help with the rescue efforts in 2018, which drew international attention. The 12 soccer players, ages 11 to 16, and their coach were saved without the sub.

Unsworth, who knew the caves well, ridiculed the high-profile effort from Musk, who is also the CEO of SpaceX. Unsworth told CNN that Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts.”

Unsworth testified Thursday that he didn’t realize CNN was a major international network.

“I don’t watch much television,” he said.

Musk’s Twitter response to the television interview included the line, “Never saw this British expat guy who lives in Thailand (sus) at any point when we were in the caves.” Sus — meaning suspect, or suspicious.

In an attempt to persuade the jury that the comment was harmful — and Musk should compensate him for it — Unsworth, a financial consultant who divides his time between England and Thailand, described the effect it had on him.

“When you combine ‘sus’ and ‘pedo guy,’ I took it as I was being branded a pedophile,” Unsworth told the jury Wednesday. ”I feel vulnerable and sometimes, when I’m in the U.K., I feel isolated.”

But under cross-examination Thursday, Musk’s lawyers tried to show that Unsworth wasn’t harmed by the comment, displaying for the jury a picture of the caver with then British Prime Minister Theresa May in front of 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s residence.

They also noted he was honored in Thailand, suggesting that if anyone had taken the pedophile comment seriously he wouldn’t have been embraced as a hero for his efforts in assisting in the rescue.

Unsworth was confronted with several instances when he had complained to friends that others involved in the rescue were being offered book and movie deals, and that he was left out of the loop and wasn’t offered enough money for his story.

“What I don’t like about all this is that everyone is trying to do deals that won’t work,” Unsworth wrote to a friend in an email shown to the jury. “I am the KEY. I am the BIG piece in the jigsaw.”

He also admitted that he declined an interview with the Guardian newspaper for a year-end story about the cave rescue because it wouldn’t pay and give him editorial control.