Rescuers who are desperately trying to reach a five-year-old boy who fell into a deep well in Morocco are entering the final stages of their operation.
They worked through the night to reach the boy, named by local media as Rayan, who plunged 32m (104ft) through the well’s narrow opening four days ago.
The complex operation has gripped the North African country for days, and thousands have gathered at the scene.
Fears of a landslide have made the rescue operation more dangerous.
That risk combined with the mixture of rocky and sandy soils has meant rescuers deem opening the water well’s narrow shaft to be too dangerous.
Instead, bulldozers have been used to cut a huge trench next to the well and authorities say they are “almost there”.
Once the trench reaches the same depth as the well, rescuers can start digging horizontally to reach the boy.
“We’re almost there,” said one of the operation’s leaders, Abdesalam Makoudi, on Friday afternoon. “We’ve been working non-stop for three days and tiredness is kicking in, but the whole rescue team is hanging on.”
Led by Morocco’s Civil Protection Directorate, rescue operations in the small northern town of Tamorot, around 100km (62 miles) from the city of Chefchaouen, have been ongoing since Tuesday evening.
The roads around the town are lined with cars and buses, while thousands have cheered rescuers at the site.
‘I haven’t slept a wink’
Rayan’s father was repairing the well at the time of the accident, and has said he and Rayan’s mother were “devastated and very worried”.
“In that one moment I took my eyes off him, the little one fell into the well. I haven’t slept a wink”, he told news site le360 on Wednesday.
Speaking to Moroccan media with tears in her eyes, Rayan’s mother said: “The whole family went out to look for him. Then we realised that he’d fallen down the well. I’m still keeping up hope that we’ll get him out alive.”
Footage on Thursday from a camera lowered into the well showed that the boy was alive and conscious, although he appeared to be suffering from some minor head injuries.
Rescue workers have lowered an oxygen mask, food and water into the well and a medical team is also on site, ready to treat the boy. A helicopter has also arrived at the scene to take him to hospital once he has been freed from the well.
On Moroccan social media, the #SaveRayan has been trending across the country as thousands of people have followed updates from local media and onlookers at the scene.
Mohamed Yassin El Quahabi, president of the Chefchaouen Association of Caving and Mountain Activities, has been helping with the rescue and he told the BBC that the narrowness of the well had hampered rescue efforts.
He added that several attempts by local volunteers and rescue workers to gain access through the well’s opening have already failed.
“The problem of this rescue is that the hole diameter is very, very small, about 25cm (9.8 inches),” Mr El Quahabi said. “At the depth of 28 metres it became smaller so we couldn’t reach him.”
One of the rescue team explained: “The closer we get, the hole gets narrow and hard to pass through – which makes it very hard to save the child through volunteers. That’s why we had to come up with another technique – which is digging.”
But authorities remain concerned that any interference with the well could accidentally hurt the five-year-old by triggering a landslide.