In the predawn hours of Saturday morning, a gargantuan search-and-rescue operation in Spain came to a tragic end as workers discovered the body of Julen Rosello, a 2-year-old boy who had fallen more than 30 stories down a narrow borehole nearly two weeks ago.
“At 1:25 a.m., Julen was found dead, unfortunately,” Alfonso Rodríguez, a government representative in Andalusia, told reporters later, his eyes brimming with tears as he gave details of the discovery.
Julen had been found by two miners and an officer on duty from the national Civil Guard. The toddler’s body was retrieved from the hole at 4 a.m., Rodriguez said.
Julen’s fate had captivated the country ever since Jan. 13, when he had tumbled into a narrow, unmarked hole – 15 inches at its widest spot – that had been drilled for a possible well on private property in Totalan, a small town on the southern coast of Spain. The tragedy happened as his parents, José Rosello and Vicky García, were setting up for a paella picnic.
The boy’s parents would later say they heard Julen’s echoing cries as he plummeted into darkness, down a hole suspected to be 360 feet deep.
Then, there was nothing but agonizing silence.
Thirteen days elapsed, speckled with hope but increasingly laden with dread. A team of rescuers – including experts who previously helped retrieve trapped miners – worked around the clock to drill a separate, vertical tunnel parallel to the borehole. Initial efforts to drill into the earth were hampered by difficult terrain, bad weather and, most of all, time.
The ensuing mission was billed as unprecedented – what engineers said might otherwise have taken a month was condensed into a few days.
Late Thursday afternoon, after workers digging the parallel tunnel had reached a depth of about 230 feet, they began drilling horizontally to try to reach where Julen was thought to be trapped, El Pais reported.
“The whole design of the operation, which was carried out on an urgent basis, and all of the work that was carried out, was based on one theory: that Julen was in the borehole,” Rodriguez said Saturday, according to the newspaper. “That he was at the depth where he was eventually found. We worked with urgency, but also delicacy. Because the aim was to reach him without causing him any harm.”
Video released by the Civil Guard showed miners drilling horizontally into what appeared to be solid rock, chipping out small pieces at a time.
“Centimeter by centimeter,” the agency wrote.
Still, it was too late.
Julen’s body awaits an autopsy, Rodriguez told reporters. There were few conclusive details, but he indicated Julen had reached his ultimate resting place quickly.
“The position of the body determines that it was a fast free-fall, to [233 feet], which is where he was found,” he said, according to El Pais.
Rodriguez said that a judge in the nearby city of Malaga would be in charge of investigating who should be held responsible for Julen’s death and cautioned that his autopsy results could not be released ahead of that investigation being finished.
Both the borehole and the rescue tunnels would be filled, he added.
On Saturday, dozens of Spanish officials observed a moment of silence outside Malaga’s town hall for Julen.
“Today, all of Spain feels the infinite sadness of Julen’s family,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez tweeted Saturday.
Julen’s parents, their faces stricken with grief, were seen arriving at a cemetery Saturday morning, hours after their son’s body had been discovered.
Throughout the ordeal, the boy’s parents had tried to hope against hope Julen would be found alive, often referring to an angel watching over them – their first son, Oliver, who had collapsed and died suddenly of a reported congenital heart defect at age 3.
“Oliver, don’t forget your brother, Julen,” his mother wrote on social media shortly after Julen’s fall, according to the Express. “You know we’ve been waiting for him for many hours. I know you protect him a lot, my little King.”
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Amy B Wang