Spain is braced for a tragedy but praying for a miracle as the operation to rescue a 2-year-old boy from a deep borehole enters a critical phase. After numerous setbacks in the desperate effort to dig a parallel shaft next to the borehole, miners are finally preparing to dig a sloped tunnel to access the narrow shaft that Julen Rosello fell into on Jan. 13, the Local reports. Authorities say the miners, using pickaxes and their own hands, will work in teams of two in 40- to 60-minute shifts to prevent fatigue. The miners are among hundreds of workers and dozens of companies that have joined efforts to rescue the boy, who fell into the borehole while playing on a relative's property in the Malaga village of Totalan.
Julen is believed to be at a depth of around 200 feet. This phase of the operation is considered the most dangerous part of an effort that lead engineer Angel Garcia Vidal describes as "not so much a rescue operation, as a work of humanitarian civil engineering," El Pais reports. The operation has moved some 40,000 tons of earth, which would have taken months under normal circumstances, La Vanguardia reports. There has been no contact with the toddler since he fell into the shaft, but hair that matched his DNA has been found inside the hole. There has been no confirmation that he is still alive, but cold weather may have slowed down his metabolism enough for it to be a possibility. (Read more missing child stories.)