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Rescue of toddler in Totalán comes up against new setback

The area where the parallel shaft is being dug.
The area where the parallel shaft is being dug. / SUR
  • The vertical tunnel will have to be drilled again after a deviation in the first one made it impossible to insertion the tubing to line the walls of the shaft. | Miners will then be lowered down the hole to dig a horizontal tunnel to link with the borehole the toddler fell down on Sunday last week

The rescue operation of two-year-old Julen who fell down a 100-metre-deep borehole on Sunday 13 January came across a new setback on Tuesday morning.

The vertical tunnel, drilled parallel to the original hole, down which specialists from the Asturias Mining Rescue Brigade will be lowered in order to tunnel through to the bottom of the narrow hole the boy fell down, will have to be dug again.

Engineers found that the tunnel that was completed on Monday night had a deviation, making the insertion of the metal tubing to line the walls impossible. This new shaft will now be filled with earth and drilling has started again on a new wider and straighter hole.

Monday's work had also come across setbacks after the machinery came across a layer of especially hard rock at a depth of 52 metres, slowing down progress. The drilling of the parallel tunnels started 25 metres below the top of the original hole thanks to excavations into the hillside. At a depth of 60 metres the miners were due to start their work.

This is the first time in Spain that a tunnel of this size has been dug to a depth of 60 metres.

Around 300 experts have been working round the clock in the Sierra de Totalán on this complex rescue operation.

Julen fell into the hole, which is just 25 centimetres wide, while his family were spending the afternoon in the rural area near the Cerro de la Corona dolmen.

Since the start of the operation, three possible approaches had been considered: to clear the earth which had trapped Julen in the original hole; build a parallel shaft (wide enough for a human) then connect the two; or build a connecting perpendicular tunnel. However, the first and last options were discarded with the former increasing the risk of further earth falling in and the latter expected to take much too long, given the instability of the terrain.

By Thursday last week, all efforts concentrated on digging the parallel hole which "in normal circumstances would take a month", according to Juan López Escobar, spokesman for the Colegio de Minas in Malaga.

"To put a timescale on it now would be reckless," he added. "We are working to do it as quickly as possible but we're talking days rather than hours."