CAIRO — Rescuers working day and night were racing against the clock on Friday to try and save a 5-year-old boy, his face distraught and bloodied, after being trapped in a 100-foot-deep well in a sleepy Moroccan village for three days.
The operation to save the boy named Rayan, who fell to the bottom of the well in northern Morocco, reached a critical stage on Friday, as Moroccans and others across North Africa breathlessly followed the rescue on live streams.
Rayan has been stuck in the well near his home in the tiny village of Ighrane, about 125 miles from the city 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 get there.
According to the state-run news agency Maghreb Arabe Presse, the drilling process is in its “final stages” and a rescue could be imminent.
According to Le360, a local publication, two rescuers are manually digging the final inches that separate them from Rayan. A helicopter was on the scene to transport Rayan to a hospital in one of the major cities as soon as he emerges.
As rescue workers jockeyed to save the boy, throngs of people looking on at the site recited prayers and shouted encouragements to the rescue team. Some onlookers 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 among the crowd. Others distributed bread and dates.
Abdelhadi Temrani, one of the rescuers, said the effort was a very delicate process.
“This stage is the most important and most complicated one,” he said. “You can’t sacrifice a team if there is a chance of collapse,” he added, explaining that the rescuers could not send anyone down to start digging across until they had secured the parallel shaft.
Using rope, rescue workers on Thursday lowered an oxygen tube and water to the boy and also sent down a camera to monitor him, according to Maghreb Arabe Presse.
Short videos of the boy, barely moving, were shared where he appeared to still be breathing.
Local 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 caving society had gotten involved in the efforts.
In an interview with Le360, Rayan’s father said that he had been in the process of fixing the well, which he owns, when his son fell in.
“Everyone is doing their best so that he comes out alive and that we can take him in our arms by the end of the day,” he said.
The tiny village of Ighrane was overrun with reporters, many of them broadcasting live.
The scenes of bulldozers digging under floodlights while thousands of Moroccans waited in suspense made the Arabic hashtag #SaveRayan a viral rallying cry on Twitter.
The hashtag was trending across Morocco and neighboring Algeria, and even in France, where there is a large Moroccan diaspora.