Morocco bid to free boy from well reaches nerve-wracking final stages
Moroccan rescuers were in the nerve-wracking final stages Friday of a marathon effort to rescue Rayan, a five-year-old boy trapped down a well for a fourth night.
The complex and risky earth-moving operation has gripped residents of the North African kingdom and even sparked sympathy in neighbouring Algeria, a regional rival.
Rayan fell some 32 metres (100 feet) down the empty shaft in the remote village of Ighrane in Chefchaouen province on Tuesday afternoon.
Moroccan media reported that rescuers managed to deliver oxygen and water to the bottom of the well on Thursday, but authorities have since given no updates on the child's condition.
Thousands of people gathered around the site of the accident, surrounded by olive trees, where AFP reporters said the tension was palpable. Some applauded to encourage the rescuers.
The shaft, just 45 centimetres (18 inches) across, was too narrow to reach the boy, and widening it was deemed too risky -- so earth-movers dug a wide slope into the hill to reach the boy from the side.
The operation was made more complex by the mix of rocky and sandy soils and the risk of a landslide.
As the sun went down on Friday evening, rescuers worked under floodlights in the final delicate stage of the operation, digging a three-metre (10-foot) tunnel to safely extract the boy.
"We're almost there. We've been working non-stop for three days and tiredness is kicking in, but the whole rescue team is hanging on," said one of the operation's leaders, Abdesalam Makoudi.
The teams have been working around the clock, turning the landscape into a construction site.
- #SaveRayan -
The boy's mother told Moroccan media that Rayan had been playing nearby when he disappeared on Tuesday afternoon.
"The whole family went out to look for him then we realised that he'd fallen down the well," she said with tears in her eyes.
"I'm still keeping up hope that we'll get him out alive."
The MAP news agency said medics were on site to check on the boy once he is extracted.
Authorities also have a helicopter on standby to take the child to hospital once he is extracted, national news channel 2M said.
The drama has sparked an outpouring of sympathy online, with the Arabic hashtag #SaveRayan going viral across North Africa.
Moroccan footballer and Paris Saint-Germain star Achraf Hakimi mentioned the rescue efforts on social media, alongside emojis of a broken heart and hands together in prayer.
Manchester City's Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez also joined the chorus of solidarity, sharing a picture of Rayan on Facebook alongside the hashtag "Stay Strong".
The boy's fate has attracted crowds of people to the site of the operation and parked cars lined the roads around the village.
Authorities have called on the public to "let the rescuers do their job and save this child."
But one volunteer said he was there to help. "We've been here for three days. Rayan is a child of our region. We won't leave until he's out of the well," he said.
The accident echoes a tragedy in Spain in early 2019 when a two-year-old child died after falling into an abandoned well 25 centimetres wide and more than 70 metres deep.