Rescuers on Saturday dug to within a metre of a young boy trapped for five days in a well in northern Morocco, a delicate and dangerous operation constantly delayed by rocks and imperilled by the threat of landslides.
Workers with mechanical diggers have been trying round the clock to rescue the 5-year-old child, Rayan Awram, after he fell into a 32-metre (100-foot) deep well in the hills near Chefchaouen on Tuesday.
“We hope we will not encounter rocks,” lead rescuer Abdelhadi Thamrani told reporters at the site on Saturday afternoon, while there were still several metres left to dig.
State television later reported that the rescuers were 90 cm (35 inches) from Rayan and that they had pinpointed his location from the access tunnel they were digging from a trench cut into the hillside.
Thamrani said it was difficult to determine the child’s health condition because a camera that has been dropped down the well showed him lying on his side, but he added “we hope we will rescue him alive”.
It was also unclear how long the digging would take due to difficulties relating to rocks and the danger of landslides, he said.
Read more: Morocco want to ditch underachievers tag
Pictures on Moroccan media have shown Rayan huddled at the bottom of the disused well, which narrows as it descends from 45 cm (18 inches) wide at the top, preventing rescuers from descending.
Workers in helmets and high-visibility vests carried stretchers, ropes, tackle and other equipment down into a trench they have dug parallel to the well.
On Friday they began carefully excavating a horizontal tunnel towards the child, sometimes being ordered out to stabilise the earth. The work grew more difficult as they encountered rocks between the trench and the well, a witness said.
The rescuers are placing concrete and steel pipes into the horizontal tunnel as they dig to allow them to pull Rayan to safety.
“People who love us are sparing no effort to save my child,” said the child’s father in a tired, barely audible voice, as he stood watching rescue efforts on Friday night, wearing a traditional hooded woollen robe against the cold.
“We pray this will be the day of his rescue,” he said.
Hundreds of villagers stood waiting nearby for news as the rescue operation continued.
Also read: Morocco hopes for Israeli tourism boost when flights resume
A male relative of the boy told Reuters TV that the family had first realised he was missing when they heard muffled crying and lowered a phone with its light and camera on to locate him.
“He was crying ‘lift me up’,” the relative said.
The hilly region around Chefchaouen is bitterly cold in winter and though food has been lowered to Rayan, it was not clear whether he has eaten any. He has also been supplied with water and oxygen using a tube.