TOTALAN: Spain grieved on Saturday (Jan 26) after a toddler who fell down a well was found dead in a tragic end to a 13-day rescue operation.
Hundreds of engineers, police and miners had been working round-the-clock to reach two-year-old Julen Rosello, who plunged down a narrow, illegal well on Jan 13 as his parents prepared lunch nearby in Totalan, a southern town near Malaga.
The rescue team "found the lifeless body of the little one" in the early hours of Saturday morning, the central government's representative in the southern region of Andalusia, Alfonso Rodriguez Gomez de Celis, wrote on Twitter.
"Not another time, no," shouted his father Jose, according to an AFP photographer, after the child's body was found. His parents lost another child, Oliver, aged three, in 2017. The child had cardiac problems.
'IT WASN'T POSSIBLE'
Julen fell 71 metres (232 feet) before hitting a layer of earth, Gomez de Celis later told reporters, adding that an investigation was underway to determine any "potential liabilities" in the two-year-old's death.
A post-mortem was carried out on Saturday, the results of which will be communicated to the judge investigating the case.
Local daily Malaga Hoy, citing sources, however, said the post-mortem found Julen died on the same day he fell from a "traumatic brain injury".
"All of Spain feels the infinite sadness of Julen's family. We have followed closely every step to reach him," Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez wrote on Twitter.
In a tweet, Spain's King Felipe VI extended his "deepest condolences to Julen's whole family".
The Civil Guard police force, whose explosives experts helped elite miners to dig a tunnel to reach Julen, expressed sadness that the operation had not had a happy end.
"Unfortunately, despite so much effort by so many people, it wasn't possible..." it wrote on its official account.
Spain has been gripped by the complex search-and-rescue operation fraught with technical difficulties that caused delay upon delay as Julen's distraught parents and relatives stood by.
It was "a colossal mission," Gomez de Celis told reporters on Saturday morning, that involved "moving 85,000 tonnes of earth in a brief space of time... with the obstacle course that the mountain was throwing at us".
There had been no sign of life from the boy but rescuers believed they knew where he was inside the well.
The only evidence of the boy's presence was some strands of hair that matched his DNA and a bag of sweets he had been holding when he fell into the well.
Rescuers were not able to get to Julen via the well he fell down because it was blocked by a layer of earth, sand and stones believed to have been dislodged when he tumbled in.
After unsuccessfully trying to suck up the blockage using machines, they decided to dig a vertical shaft parallel to the well and then dig a four-metre tunnel to join both channels.
Despite the passage of time, the boy's relatives held out hope that Julen had somehow survived the fall and would be found alive.
An investigation into the circumstances of his fall into the unmarked, illegally-dug well - one of many in Andalusia - will be carried out by an investigating judge.