CAIRO — Rescuers who were racing on Saturday to free a boy trapped in a 100-foot well for four days in northern Morocco said they still held out great hopes of pulling him out alive, though they were not certain of his current condition.
Rescuers have been working day and night to tunnel toward the boy and said they were just a few feet away from reaching him. But rescuers, fearing that either the well or a parallel shaft that was dug to reach him would collapse at any moment, proceeded with extreme caution.
“It’s hard to know his status, but we have great, great, great hope,” said Abdelhadi Temrani, one of the rescuers, noting that the team was providing oxygen around the clock to the boy, Rayan, who is 5. They have also been monitoring him with a camera lowered into the well.
“There is an ambulance and helicopter waiting here to help at the right moment,” Mr. Temrani said. He said the camera showed the boy lying on his side, making it hard to discern his exact condition.
As nightfall began, crowds of people remained at the site, at times erupting into prayers and cheers, shouting, “Live, live, Rayan.” But there was a growing sense of uncertainty that the boy could still come out alive, with conflicting reports about the progress of the rescue operation.
Dozens of police officers lined both sides of a corridor to make way for the rescue and keep back the crowd. All of it was being live streamed, with many at home and abroad glued to their screens.
A state-run television channel posted a short video of the operation on Saturday, showing the workers digging through the tunnel. Officials said that 20 inches separated the rescuers from Rayan, and that they had confronted “big rocks” and areas where the soil collapsed. But they were still hoping to pull him out Saturday.
🔴 متر واحد و80 سنتمترا يفصل فريق الإنقاذ عن المكان الذي يتواجد به #الطفل_ريان حسب اخر معلومة وافانا بها موفدنا فؤاد عزوزي. العملية مستمرة.
— 2M.ma (@2MInteractive) February 5, 2022
The operation to save the boy was in what rescuers described as the “decisive phase,” 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 60 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 state-run television that had been airing a livestream of the operation, rescuers also appear to have encountered hard rocky barriers that impeded their progress, forcing them to shift course as they dug.
The state-run news agency Maghreb Arabe Presse said the drilling process was in its “final stages.”
According to Le360, a local publication, two rescuers were manually digging the final feet that separated them from Rayan. A helicopter was on the scene to transport the boy to a hospital in one of the major cities.
As rescue workers jockeyed to save the boy on Friday, 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.
Mr. Temrani, the rescuer, said the effort was a delicate process. Rescuers have been lowering oxygen and water down to the boy using rope and also sent down a camera to monitor him.
On Friday, short videos of the boy, barely moving, were shared in which it appeared that he was still breathing.
The local news 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 effort.
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 while playing nearby.
“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,” his father 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.