escue workers say they have almost reached a young child who has been trapped at the bottom of a well for four days.
The five-year old boy, publicly identified only by his first name, Rayan, fell into the well in the northern hill town of Chefchaouen on Tuesday and his plight has gripped the North African country.
“We’re almost there,” said one of the rescue operation leaders, Abdesalam Makoudi, on Friday.
“We’ve been working non-stop for three days and tiredness is kicking in, but the whole rescue team is hanging on.”
Rescuers have dug a parallel hole to a depth of 31 metres in an attempt to reach the boy and have also managed to send a CCTV camera down in order to communicate with Rayan.
In addition, on Saturday they have lowered an oxygen mask, food and water into the well and a medical team is on the site, ready to treat the boy.
Rescuers were delicately removing rocks as they dug horizontally towards the young boy, a dangerous operation constantly imperilled by the threat of landslides.
“I ask Moroccans to pray for the safe return of my son,” Rayan’s distraught mother, Wassima Kharchich, said in footage shown on local media. State news outlet SNRT News quoted a rescuer on Friday saying the boy was still alive.
I pray and beg God that he comes out of that well alive and safe. Please God, ease my pain and his, in that hole of dust.”
The boy’s father, Khalid Agoram, said he had spent hours searching for his son Rayan on Tuesday before realising he had fallen down the well.
The well is 32 metres deep and narrows as it descends from its 45cm (18 inches) diameter at the top, which means the rescuers cannot go down themselves to retrieve the child.
"People who love us are sparing no effort to save my child," said Rayan's father in a tired, barely audible voice, as he stood watching rescue efforts on Friday night.
A male relative of Rayan told Reuters TV that the family had first realised he was missing when they heard muffled crying and lowered a phone with its light and camera on to locate him.
"He was crying 'lift me up'," the relative said.
The rescue effort halted for a time on Friday following concerns about ground stability, fueling despair among those hoping to reach him.
“Digging has stopped momentarily out of concern that the ground surrounding the well could collapse,” rescue committee member Abdelhadi Temrani told local television 2M.
The hilly region around Chefchaouen is bitterly cold in winter and though food has been lowered to Rayan, it was not clear whether he has eaten any.
He has also been supplied with water and oxygen using a tube.
Rescuers worked through the night with bulldozers to cut a massive trench into the hill next to the well leaving a gaping hole in the reddish earth.
On Friday rescuers began carefully excavating a horizontal tunnel towards the child, sometimes being ordered out to stabilise the earth. The work grew more difficult as they encountered rocks between the trench and the well, a witness said.
One of the rescue team on Friday called the horizontal tunnelling on Friday: “The most critical and most complicated rescue step ... we need to dig horizontally three to five meters.”
“But to do so we have to stabilise the earth and remove the risk of landslide because we will deploy a rescue team and we cannot jeopardise their lives.”
Earlier, Red Crescent volunteer Imad Fahmy said he managed to communicate with the child and asked if he could hear me.
“There was a response. I waited for a minute and saw that he began using the oxygen,” he said.
Medical staff and a helicopter are on standby to take the boy to the nearest hospital if the rescue operation is successful.
A helicopter is standing by to ferry Rayan to hospital as soon as he is freed.
The hashtag #SaveRayan has gained traction on social media where thousands have sent their well wishes to the young child.