Boy pulled out of well in Morocco dead after four-day rescue mission that transfixed the world

Rescuers pulled a boy out of a 100-foot well in Morocco on Saturday after tunneling toward the 5-year-old in a four-day operation that transfixed the country and anxious observers across the world, but the royal palace said in a statement that the boy had died.

King Mohammed VI called the boy’s parents to express his condolences, the statement read. Two government officials were also quoted by Reuters as saying that the boy died.

The emergency team’s Saturday night extraction of the boy, identified in the king’s statement as Rayan Oram, marked the end of a mission that involved teams of first responders and topographical engineers working round-the-clock with heavy equipment that included bulldozers and backhoes.

An ambulance took the child away as people prayed. For a short time, the boy’s health was not known. Then local media reported that the palace had declared him dead.

The team had remained hopeful of getting Rayan out alive.

“It’s hard to determine his condition … but there is great, great hope,” team member Abdelhadi Tamarani said earlier Saturday.

For four days, the team worked to safely retrieve Rayan, who fell into a dry well and became trapped between its narrow walls, in the village of Ighran in Morocco’s northern Chefchaouen province. His dramatic rescue captured the attention of Morocco and neighbouring countries. Large crowds gathered to support his family and watch live as broadcasters streamed it.

Rayan fell into the well Tuesday evening. The village contains numerous deep wells that provide irrigation for the cannabis crop that serves as the primary source of income for many in the remote region, the Associated Press reported.

The boy’s parents heard his voice and spotted him down the well with the help of a flashlight, according to Morocco World News. Emergency workers used bulldozers to dig the well, as they were unable to do so.

“It’s my well, and I was fixing it while Rayan was next to me,” the boy’s father told local outlet Le360 before the child was extracted.

Rayan’s grandmother told Agence France-Presse that the boy was “very loved here in the village” and not just at home by his family.

Government spokesman Mustapha Baitas said soil conditions were too dangerous to try to widen the hole, Al Jazeera reported — necessitating major excavations around the well.

On Friday, the team began digging a horizontal tunnel with the help of topographical engineers as hundreds of people looked on. Local media reported that they manually removed the last stretch. Heavy machinery’s motors stopped and there was silence.

The last few feet appeared to be the hardest, as the nerve-racking prospect of a wall collapsing or shaking soil threatened days of delicate work. The rescuers waited for the help of their team to get the boy out, while they scanned the pit to see if the wall was going to collapse or the soil to shake.

Messages of support poured in through social media, where the hashtag #SaveRayan became a rallying cry. The rescue operation was closely covered by regional media, including Algeria which shares a tension with Morocco.

Algeria and Morocco severed diplomatic ties in August. But Rayan’s rescue mission provided a unifying moment for the feuding nations, especially as the news brought back memories of the 2018 death of 26-year-old Ayyash Mahjoubi, who was trapped in a well for six days in Algeria, according to Al Jazeera.

“Oh, Lord, show us the miracle of your kindness,” Ahlam Mostghanmi, an Algerian novelist, wrote on Twitter, including a clip of an apparently breathing Rayan. As well as sending their best wishes and prayers, she joined an algeria chorus that included soccer players to everyday residents. On social media, messages were flooding in with messages that included emojis of both countries’ flags. Others shared pictures of themselves staring at their TVs as they viewed the news.

“A big thank you to our Algerian brothers, you made me cry. … We hope that this is the way to reconcile the two countries,” a Moroccan user commented on a Facebook stream of Rayan’s rescue.

Rescuers used rope to send oxygen down to the child and a camera to monitor him. Tamarani stated that the camera showed the boy on his back, facing the wall. It was difficult to see how the child fared as Tamarani and the rest of the rescue team approached.

Saturday evening, the sound of what appeared to be a small landslide triggered worried shouts from the crowd around the pit.

As night fell, cries in Arabic from onlookers of “God is great!” grew more numerous and plaintive. As the mission was nearing its conclusion, there were occasional cheers. The operation continued into Saturday night without any news on the condition of the boy. The temperature outside dropped to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Onlookers sang songs of support on Feb. 5 as rescuers worked frantically to save a 5-year-old boy who fell down a well in rural Morocco. (2M.TV)

Chants, whistles and prayers picked up in the moments before the boy emerged from the well. The darkness was lit by floodlights, and rescue workers’ reflective jackets caught the eye of the public. This caused the eyes of everyone to focus on the tunnel mouth where a nation had staked its hopes.

An ambulance, helicopter and medics were at the site to take the boy to a hospital. Rescuers formed a wall around the child as they pulled him from the pit and rushed him into a waiting ambulance, which quickly drove away around 9: 30 p.m. local time.

Messages of condolence and support for Rayan’s parents filled social media after news of the boy’s death. In a statement, the palace expressed gratitude to the rescue workers, authorities and residents for their efforts to save Rayan and the family for the “strong solidarity” and wide sympathy.

But the four-day rescue was one that rippled across the world — welding so many in hope and then unifying them in grief.

“Amid a pandemic and years of collective & individual loss, it was so beautiful to see people from around the world, even 1000s of miles away from Morocco, empathize, pray for & put every ounce of hope into 5 year old Rayan’s safe recovery,” Mai El-Sadanya, the legal and judicial director at The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said on Twitter. “Makes it that much more crushing.”

Moroccan soccer player and Paris St. Germain star Achraf Hakimi was among the thousands of people posting about “le petit Rayan” — or little Rayan. Hakimi posted a collage of the smiling boy, superimposed on the silhouettes of rescuers. He also shared an Arabic message about how the rescue had touched hearts all over the world.

“We belong to God and to him we shall return,” Hakimi tweeted.

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