Morocco: Rescue workers edge closer to five-year-old boy trapped in well
Moroccan rescuers on Friday were in the nerve-wracking final stages of a marathon effort to rescue Rayan, a five-year-old boy trapped down a well for the fourth night.
The complex and hazardous operation has gripped the country with Moroccans tracking the rescuers' efforts on live-stream.
Images of Rayan, his head bloodied and body bruised, have flashed before the public due to a mobile phone that rescuers lowered to the boy on a rope in order to communicate with him and monitor live images of his surroundings.
Rayan fell some 32 metres down the empty shaft in the remote village of Ighrane in northern 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 have gathered around the site of the accident, with some applauding to encourage the rescuers.
Local authorities have deployed bulldozers to dig around the well, but are wary that the method could further injure Rayan, according to local media reports.
The shaft, just 45cm across, was too narrow to reach the boy. Local authorities have deployed bulldozers to dig around the well but have deemed widening it as 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, rescuers worked under floodlights in the final delicate stage of the operation, digging a three-metre 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.
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 the boy's health once he is extracted.
Authorities also have a helicopter on stand-by 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.