MADRID — The Spanish authorities said early Saturday that they had found the body of a 2-year-old boy who fell into a well nearly two weeks ago, bringing to a tragic end a search operation that had gripped the nation.
The toddler, Julen Roselló, was said to have slipped into an abandoned, narrow borehole on Jan. 13, while his parents were preparing lunch in the countryside near the southern port city of Málaga.
His fall set off a rescue mission that was covered around the clock by Spanish news outlets. As the operation encountered engineering and geological obstacles, it grew to include about 300 people, including Spanish mining specialists and a Swedish company that provided the technology to help save 33 Chilean miners in 2010.
Officials had tried various routes to the toddler, whose body was trapped behind hardened soil and rock that blocked rescue workers and equipment. A government official, Alfonso Rodríguez Gómez de Celis, said that Julen’s body was found at 1:25 a.m. Saturday. A group of miners used a series of controlled explosions to help them excavate the last few meters of earth separating them from the child.
Over the past two weeks, rescuers worked day and night to find Julen. The boy’s father, José Roselló, urged rescuers not to abandon the search, telling reporters that he had heard his child cry at the time of his fall and that an angel would help save him. The family’s first son died at age 3, reportedly from a heart defect.
Three days after Julen disappeared, the authorities confirmed that he was in the well with hair taken from excavated mud, which a preliminary DNA test found belonged to the boy. Officials then decided to build two tunnels to reach the toddler, but one route was quickly abandoned because of the risk of landslides.
Initially, Julen’s case drew hopeful parallels with successful rescues, like the 12 boys and their soccer coach who were saved from a cave in Thailand last summer. In Texas in 1987, 18-month old Jessica McClure was rescued from a narrow well after being trapped for 58 hours.
On Saturday, Mr. Rodríguez Gómez de Celis said at a news conference that the rescue mission had ended “with the certainty of having done everything humanly possible but with the misfortune of having reached an unwanted end.”
He said the rescue effort should serve as “a model for other emergencies,” while recognizing the scale of the unexpected problems encountered by the rescuers. “It looked like the mountain was fighting back against each and all of the works that were being undertaken,” he said.
A local court has opened a judicial investigation to determine the exact circumstances of what happened. In an arid region that relies on agriculture, the accident has also drawn attention to the practice of drilling boreholes, often without permission, in order to find water.
Mr. Rodríguez Gómez de Celis would not discuss the police investigation. Instead, he urged landowners to come forward in order to help seal abandoned boreholes that could lead to similar tragedies.
“Whoever has dug an illegal well in our country still has time to make it known,” he said.
Orignially published in NYT.