A 5-year-old boy who fell into an abandoned well on Sunday has been found dead at the scene, according to reports.
Rescuers announced just after 11 p.m. Thursday that Zhao Zicong had been found after a 108-hour rescue mission that had seen emergency service teams excavate a vast area around the 40-meter well shaft in Li County, Hebei province. Despite the effort of medical professionals, the boy was pronounced dead shortly afterward.
At around 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning, Zhao Xiangyang, Zicong’s father, took his son and daughter to dig for cabbage in the fields around Mengchang Village. Zicong then inadvertently fell into the well while playing nearby, according to a notice circulated by Wu Sujie, the deputy director of the rescue operation.
What followed was an extensive rescue effort involving police, firefighters, and water conservancy experts as the fragile sides of the well were gradually dug away. Prone to collapse and with a diameter of only 30 centimeters, the shaft was too narrow to accommodate a fully grown person.
In response, rescuers dug a 120-meter-wide pit around the well, reinforced the shaft, and excavated to a depth of 30 meters. To date, the operation has employed 165 mechanical excavators, forklifts, bulldozers, and other vehicles.
Earlier on Thursday, local authorities had escorted relatives of the boy to the local police station to ascertain his height, weight, and the circumstances that led to his disappearance, Xu Jingdong, deputy chief of the Li County Information Office, told Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper. They are not believed to have been held under suspicion of criminal behavior.
News of Zicong’s death flooded social media with messages of condolence and support for the boy’s family. “I was very touched to see rescuers not give up the search. May the boy rest in peace,” wrote one user on microblog platform Weibo.
However, others criticized local authorities for not covering up the abandoned, dried-up wells that dot the region. “Who knows how many innocent children have been swallowed up by these abandoned wells scattered across the fields?” asked another Weibo user.
With contributions from Dong Heng and Lu Hongyong.
(Header image: An aerial photo of the rescue team working around the well in Li County, Hebei province, Nov. 9, 2016. IC)