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Newsmaker: Rayan Oran — Losing a race against time

It just wasn’t to be. We prayed that the rescuers who tried to move a mountain to save little Rayan Oram — who accidentally fell into a well in northern Morocco — might succeed.

We had all prayed for miracles before in similar dark and deep rescue attempts and prayers were answered.

There were the Chilean miners, all 33, who spent 69 days in their collapsed shaft — all brought to the surface of the Atacama Desert in October 2010. They all made it out

There was the miracle too of the teen football team who were rescued after 18 days lost in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand in July, 2018. They all made it out.

And in November, a very seriously injured caver slipped and fell deep underground on a very flooded cave system in southeast Wales, spent 50 hours being hauled out from the bowels of the Earth by more than 300 rescuers. He made it out.

So maybe it was just one miracle too many to expect that little Rayan would be saved. Was that too much to ask? Who can forget the images beamed around the world of the little boy, barely conscious — but moving — lying more than 30 metres down at the bottom of a well in the village of Ighrane, about 100 kilometres from the blue-walled northern Moroccan city of Chefchaouen.

As long as he was moving, there was hope.

Rayan fell into the well on Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 1 and was discovered after he was heard crying, his mother said in an interview with state-owned Al Aoula TV two days later.

She said he was playing nearby before he disappeared, and that she quickly called authorities after finding out what had happened.

As rescue efforts continued throughout the week, gripping much of the country, the hashtag #SaveRayan went viral across North Africa. It soon caught the attention of international media. The world was hooked on to this human story. Everyone hoped against hope and prayed for the little boy.

It would mean moving a mountain to save Rayan. And the hundreds of rescuers would do anything and everything to save Rayan.

A very tragic story

Authorities sent food and water down the well and the boy’s parents saw him drinking some water.

“He was moving, and drank a little bit of water. I believe he will be OK, God help him,” his father told Al Aoula TV.

Local media also reported that the child had taken food and water that was dropped down to him using a rope.

No one knew how long it would take to complete the rescue operation. Going down parallel to the well shaft was technically very difficult, in part because of the nature of the soil — and one wrong move would mean hundreds of tonnes of it falling in on Rayan’s shaft, which was only some 30-40 centimetres wide anyway.

Or dig a new shaft at a right angle, from the side of a hill, towards the space where Rayan lay. Difficult too, but a marginally better option. And this rescue was always going to be about margins. Well rescues always are.

One of the more famous rescues happened in Midland, Texas, in 1987 when 18-month-old “baby Jessica” was rescued from a well after a parallel shaft was dug — much like what is being attempted in Morocco.

In 2019, two-year-old Julen Rosello fell into a similar well in Spain. The complicated rescue efforts included digging multiple tunnels to try to recover the boy. Hundreds of experts contributed to the operation, which included moving more than 17,000 tons of rocks. But they could not reach him in time, and his body was finally recovered after 13 days

Heroic rescue efforts

“People who love us are sparing no effort to save my child,” Rayan’s father said as he stood watching rescue efforts three days into the rescue effort as hundreds of workers dug frantically to save the boy.

At one stage, there was a landslide, posing a very real danger to those trying to gouge out a hillside and dig towards Rayan.

For hour after hour, bucketful after bucketful, metre by metre, they inched closer to the boy, a rescue operation day and night that gripped us all. Yes, they were getting close, and there would a moment when we could all exhale collectively after days of holding our breath, crossing our fingers, praying that he would be saved, hoping that this would have a happy ending, that teamwork would prevail, that the bad news that seems to come day after day these past couple of years would be banished by Rayan being saved.

King Mohammed VI of Morocco offered condolences to Rayan’s family in a phone call, according to a statement from the Royal Palace.

“Following the tragic accident that claimed the life of the child Rayan Oram, His Majesty King Mohammed VI, may God protect him, made a phone call to Mr. Khaled Oram, and Mrs. Wassima Khersheesh, the parents of the deceased who passed away, after falling into a well,” the statement said.

After days of being united in hope, we were united in grief.

“I wanted to believe that miracles still happen,” said Mehdi Idrissi, 32, a doctor in the Moroccan city of Fez who followed the rescue effort for days, doubting that Rayan could survive his ordeal but clinging to optimism. “As a country, we needed a bit of hope, and even though the ending was tragic, it did bring us all together. May he rest in peace.”

Yes, we all needed a bit of hope. Maybe little Rayan showed us that we can move mountains if we all work together. And there is always hope.

With inputs from agencies

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