Moroccan rescuers competed against the clock last Friday to rescue a young boy who was trapped in a deep well for almost three days, in an operation that has gripped the kingdom with hundreds of thousands anxiously pasted during live broadcasts.
Aid efforts intensified for five-year-old Rayan, who fell into a 32-meter (100-foot) deep well on Tuesday, when darkness fell with diggers splitting dirt under headlights to create a hole next to the narrow shaft.
“The baby’s rescue is approaching,” government spokesman Mustapha Baitas said on Thursday. “Our hearts are with the family and we ask that he return with them as soon as possible.”
The drama has aroused a flow of sympathy online, with the Arabic hashtag #SaveRayan going viral in North Africa, including in neighboring Algeria.
Drilling in the village near Bab Berred in Morocco’s rural northern province of Chefchaouen has reached 27 meters, with “hopes of reaching 32 meters in the next few hours”, Moroccan news agency MAP reported.
The rescuers will then dig 3 meters horizontally “between the hole and the well to recover the child”, it said.
A medical team was dispatched to the scene to perform initial checks and possible resuscitation once the boy was rescued.
Rescue workers were able to send the child oxygen and water via pipes, and a police helicopter is on standby to evacuate him to a nearby hospital.
Rayan’s father told the news website Le360 that he had repaired the well when the boy fell into it.
“I could not sleep a wink all night,” he said.
His grandmother Laaziza told AFP that Rayan “is very much loved here in the village, not just at home” by his family.
“I miss him, it’s been three nights,” she said.
“Difficult conditions” Leading rescuer Abdelhabi Temrani told TV channel Al Oula that the diameter of the well was less than 45 centimeters.
Baitas said that the nature of the earth meant that it was too dangerous to try to widen the hole, which means that larger excavations around it were the only solution.
Several Moroccan media broadcasts are watched minute by minute by hundreds of thousands of Internet users who hang out after news of the child’s fate.
Moroccan football player and PSG star Achraf Hakimi mentioned the rescue efforts on social media, along with emojis of a broken heart and hands together in prayer.
Manchester City’s Algerian star Riyad Mahrez also joined the chorus of solidarity and shared a picture of Rayan on Facebook along with the hashtag “Stay Strong”.
The boy’s fate has attracted lots of people to the scene of the operation, which has put pressure on rescuers working in “difficult conditions”, Baitas said.
“We urge citizens to let the rescuers do their job and save this child,” he said.
The accident echoes a tragedy that occurred in Spain in early 2019 when a 2-year-old child died after falling into an abandoned well that was 25 centimeters wide and more than 70 meters deep.
Christmas Rosello’s body was found after a search and rescue operation that lasted 13 days.