CAIRO – Rescuers working day and night tunneled a 5-year-old boy, his face confused and bloody, on Saturday to rescue him from a 100-foot-deep well in a sleepy Moroccan village where he had been trapped for nearly four days. .
In early Saturday, they were within about 10 feet of him, rescuers told local news media.
The operation to rescue the boy, Rayan, who fell to the bottom of the well in northern Morocco, was in what rescuers described as the final, critical stages as Moroccans and others across North Africa breathlessly followed the rescue on livestreams.
Rayan has been stuck in the well near his home in the small village of Ighrane, about 125 miles from the town of Chefchaouen, since Tuesday afternoon. Rescuers brought in bulldozers to dig a parallel shaft from which they could tunnel through to reach the child, but they feared that either part of the well or the parallel shaft would collapse before they could reach it.
According to state-owned television, which had broadcast a livestream of the operation, rescuers also appear to have encountered hard rocky barriers that hindered their progress as they continued to change course and carefully dig across.
The state-run news agency Maghreb Arabe Presse said the drilling process was in its “final phase”. The operation was temporarily halted around Friday night, but rescuers resumed as it was considered safe to continue.
According to Le360, a local publication, two rescuers manually dug the last feet that separated them from Rayan. A helicopter was on site to transport the boy to a hospital in one of the major cities.
While rescue workers jockeyed to rescue the boy, crowds of people watching the scene recited prayers and shouted cheers to the rescue team. Some spectators sat around or slept under trees, eager to witness the resolution of the crisis. Rayan’s family made couscous, the traditional Moroccan dish, and served it to people in the crowd. Others handed out bread and dates.
Abdelhadi Temrani, one of the rescuers, said the effort was a very delicate process.
“This phase is the most important and most complicated,” he said Friday. “You can not sacrifice a team if there is a chance of collapse,” he added, explaining that rescuers could not send anyone down to start digging over until they had secured the parallel shaft.
Using ropes, rescue workers on Thursday lowered an oxygen hose and water to the boy and also sent a camera down to monitor him, according to the Maghreb Arab Press.
Short videos of the boybarely moving, was split where it looked like he was still breathing.
The local news media reported that there were five bulldozers and dozens of rescuers, including a team of topographers. The reports said that even a local mountaineering and cave community had been involved in the effort.
In an interview with Le360, Rayan’s father said he had been repairing the well he owns when his son fell in. He was playing when he fell, according to local news reports.
“Everyone is doing their best to get him out alive and that we can take him in our arms at the end of the day,” his father said.
The small village of Ighrane was flooded with journalists, many of whom broadcast live.
The scenes of bulldozers digging under floodlights while thousands of Moroccans waited in suspense turned the Arab hashtag #SaveRayan into a viral rallying cry on Twitter.
The hashtag was popular in Morocco and neighboring Algeria, and even in France, where there is a large Moroccan diaspora.