Elon Musk has apologised for calling a British cave diver who helped rescue the trapped Thai football team a “pedo”.
The Tesla and SpaceX boss said his extraordinary tirade was "spoken in anger" after Vernon Unsworth branded his offer of a mini-submarine for the rescue a "PR stunt".
Mr Unsworth said earlier this week he was considering suing Mr Musk over the insult.
Amid a huge backlash, the billionaire business magnate, who is worth $20bn , tweeted an apology.
He said: “My words were spoken in anger after Mr Unsworth said several untruths & suggested I engage in a sexual act with the mini-sub, which had been built as an act of kindness & according to specifications from the dive team leader.
“Nonetheless, his actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologise to Mr Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone.
“I am truly sorry if I offended anyone.”
Tesla shareholders were among those to demand an apology from Mr Musk, with open letter stating his “many examples of concerning behaviour” is “shaking investor confidence”.
Mr Unsworth, whose knowledge of the cave was crucial in freeing the boys, previously told CNN Mr Musk’s prototype would have had “absolutely no chance of working”.
“He can stick his submarine where it hurts,” he said. “He had no conception of what the cave passage was like. The submarine, I believe, was about 5ft 6in long, and rigid, so it wouldn’t have gone round corners or obstacles.
“It wouldn’t have made the first 50 metres in from the dive start point. Just a PR stunt.”
Mr Musk responded to Mr Unsworth’s comments in a series of now deleted tweets referring to the cave expert, without using his name, as “pedo guy”.
He said he would make a video proving the submarine would have worked, adding: “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it”.
Musk then tweeted to more than 22 million followers: “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true”.
He also said: “Never saw this British expat guy who lives in Thailand at any point when we were in the caves.”
Asked if he would take legal action against Musk over the allegation, Mr Unsworth told AFP: “If it’s what I think it is, yes.”
Mr Musk had flown to Thailand and offered to assist in the rescue mission of 12 boys and their coach from a flooded cave by providing a submarine, but leaders of the operation declined his help.