Tragedy in Málaga

New setback in race to reach trapped Spanish toddler Julen Roselló

Rescuers have finished perforating a vertical tunnel running parallel to the borehole where the two-year-old fell nine days ago, but now find that the diameter needs to be wider

Members of a mining team arrive on the site of the incident.
Members of a mining team arrive on the site of the incident.Paco Puentes / EL PAIS

Rescuers racing to find Julen Roselló, a two-year-old who reportedly fell into a borehole in southern Spain nine days ago, have run into new technical difficulties.

Experts who drilled a long vertical shaft running parallel to the borehole will now be forced to widen the diameter, due to unexpected difficulties inserting the pipes brought in for cladding. The pipes got stuck at a depth of 40 meters, 20 meters short of the target.These technicians would not provide an estimate of when this new task might be completed.

A group of specialized miners flown in from northern Spain had been preparing to go down the shaft on Tuesday to a depth of 60 meters, and manually excavate a horizontal gallery to the spot where the toddler is believed to be trapped after slipping down the narrow opening on January 13.

When the tunnel is ready, members of the Hunosa Mining Rescue Brigade will be lowered in teams of two and dig a four-meter gallery to connect with the borehole, a laborious task that will performed in 40- to 60-minute shifts and which is expected to take around 24 hours.

Miners will use pneumatic tools and axes to dig the connecting tunnel, and support the roof with wooden beams as they go. The use of explosives has been ruled out because of the danger it could pose for the child and the miners alike.

The race against time is posing numerous challenges that are being resolved through sheer ingenuity. The cage that will be used to lower the miners was designed ad hoc by the Provincial Firefighters Consortium and quickly built by two local blacksmiths.

Julen Roselló was playing on a relative’s rural property in Totalán, in Málaga province, when he apparently fell into a groundwater prospecting hole more than 100 meters deep and with a diameter of no more than 30 centimeters.

The child’s plight has triggered an outpouring of support. Hundreds of people are on site to help with the rescue operation, and many companies have volunteered specialized equipment. But the abruptness of the terrain and the geology of the area have considerably slowed down efforts to drill the parallel shaft. An earlier plan for an alternative horizontal tunnel was dropped.

Drilling down has taken much longer than planned – 55 hours instead of the initial estimate of 15 – because of the hardness of the rock and the need for regular maintenance to ensure the drill bits did not break.

Ángel García Vidal, the engineer who is supervising the technical work, said that the vertical tunnel was completed at 8.30pm on Monday after advancing an average of 1.1 meters every hour.

“We have come across very difficult material,” said García Vidal. Work of this nature typically requires months of preliminary planning and surveying, but in this case it is being done in days.

English version by Susana Urra.

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