Rescuers continue desperate search for toddler trapped in borehole

The difficulty of the terrain and a bad weather forecast are hampering efforts to excavate two tunnels in a bid to locate two-year-old Julen Roselló

Totalán residents showing support for relatives of Julen.
Totalán residents showing support for relatives of Julen.KMJ/KMA (GTRES)
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The search for Julen

Four days after a toddler named Julen Rosellóg fell down a 100-meter borehole on a rural property in southern Spain, a team of rescuers is today continuing efforts to reach the child, despite the complexity of the rescue operation.

The two-year-old was playing on a relative’s property in Totalán, in Málaga province, when he apparently fell into a hole with a diameter of no more than 30 centimeters that had been covered with loose rocks.

Heavy machinery near the borehole.
Heavy machinery near the borehole.PACO PUENTES (EL PAIS)

The shaft was made illegally by the property’s owner in an attempt to find underground water, as many people do in this dry area of Spain that nevertheless is home to significant agricultural activities.

“There are hundreds more like that one, covered with rocks, and nobody thinks that anyone could slip down one,” said an officer with Seprona, the Civil Guard’s nature protection service.

Engineers, miners and businesses have been volunteering services, heavy machinery and equipment of all kinds in a bid to find Julen alive, and more than 100 people are participating in the effort.

A pipe to be used in the construction of a vertical tunnel next to the borehole.
A pipe to be used in the construction of a vertical tunnel next to the borehole.PACO PUENTES (EL PAIS)

But the nature of the terrain and the characteristics of the borehole are making the rescue “enormously” hard. And a rain forecast for Friday and Saturday is compounding the difficulties of a project that requires civil and mining engineering work at a spot that is hard to reach by car, and much more so by heavy machinery.

Unprecedented situation

Machines have begun digging two separate tunnels, one sideways into the mountainside and another vertical one running parallel to the borehole. “The main thing is to reach the spot as soon as possible, via either one of these two options,” said Juan López Escobar, of the Association of Mining Engineers of the South.

Juan López Escobar is guiding the engineering team.
Juan López Escobar is guiding the engineering team.Nacho Sánchez

Escobar, who is advising the team of engineers at the site, said that recurring landslides are making the horizontal tunnel a particularly difficult enterprise, and that technicians are focusing most of their efforts on the vertical one. But nobody knows yet how long it will take.

“To talk about time frames would be rash. People are talking about hours, but we should be talking about days,” said Escobar, noting that work of this nature normally requires a month’s worth of preliminary studies and technical surveys. But there is no time in this case, and experts are having to improvise as they go along.

Escobar explained that both tunnels will serve to lead miners as close as possible to the spot where Julen is presumed to be. At that point, the miners will manually excavate a gallery and hold it up with wooden beams to let firefighters through.

This engineer admits that the situation is unprecedented. “We had never found ourselves in such an extreme, unique situation, much less with such a young child,” he said. “Hope is the last thing to go. His father is talking about a guardian angel. Let’s hope this angel is watching over him.”

Evidence found

El País

Rescuers have found strands of hair inside the borehole, quelling earlier rumors that the child might not be there at all. “We now have scientific evidence that the minor is down there,” said María Gámez, the central government’s deputy delegate in Málaga.

This is the second tragedy to hit the Roselló family. In the spring of 2017, their three-year-old son Oliver died of sudden cardiac arrest while they were walking along a beach.

English version by Susana Urra.

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