By MOSA’AB ELSHAMY and TARIK EL-BARAKAH, Associated Press

IGHRAN, Morocco (AP) — Attempts to rescue a 5-year-old boy trapped in a Moroccan well stretched into a fourth day Saturday, with unstable ground threatening painstaking labor trying to dig him out safely. Fears have grown that it may be too late.

Online messages of support and concern for the boy, Rayan, poured in from around the world as rescue efforts dragged on into the night.

Rescuers used a rope to send oxygen and water to the boy and a camera to monitor him. On Saturday morning, the head of the rescue committee, Abdelhadi Temrani, said: “It is not at all possible to determine the condition of the child at the moment. But we hope before God that the child is alive.

Rayan fell into a 32-metre (105ft) pit outside his home in the village of Ighran in Morocco’s northern mountainous province of Chefchaouen on Tuesday evening. He is now trapped in a hole too narrow for rescuers to reach him safely.

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For three days, search teams used bulldozers to dig a parallel ditch. Then on Friday they started digging a horizontal tunnel to reach the trapped boy. Moroccan news agency MAP said surveying engineering experts had been called in for help.

Temrani, speaking to local 2M television, said on Saturday that rescuers only had two meters (yards) to dig to reach the hole where the boy is trapped.

“The diggers encountered hard rock on their way, so they were very careful to avoid any landslides or cracks,” he said. “It took about five hours to get rid of the rock as the digging was slow and was done in a careful way to avoid creating cracks in the hole from below which could threaten the child’s life as well as that of the rescuers”.

The work was particularly difficult due to fears that the ground surrounding the well could cave in on the boy.

Medical staff, including resuscitation specialists, are on hand to care for the boy once he is discharged, with a helicopter on standby to transport him to the nearest hospital.

Her distraught parents are joined by hundreds of villagers and others who have gathered to witness the rescue operation.

The village of around 500 people is dotted with deep wells, many of which are used to irrigate the cannabis crop that is the main source of income for many in the poor, remote and arid region of Morocco’s Rif mountains. Most wells have protective covers.

The exact circumstances of the boy’s fall into the well are unclear.

Across the country, Moroccans took to social media to offer their hopes for the boy’s survival, using the hashtag #SaveRayan which drew global attention to the rescue efforts.

El-Barakah reported from Rabat, Morocco.

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