It was a remarkable display of grit and survival instinct by a differently-abled boy who endured five days of ordeal after falling into a borewell in Chhattisgarh but never gave up hope as he was eventually pulled out alive after a marathon rescue operation lasting more than 100 hours and involving over 500 personnel.
Eleven-year-old Rahul Sahu became cynosure of all eyes after he was rescued from the borewell in a village in Jangir-Champa district on late Tuesday night as people across the country, which has seen numerous such incidents in the past, heaved a collective sigh of relief.
It was an arduous task for rescuers to dig an over 60-feet-deep parallel pit and create a tunnel to reach Rahul Sahu who fell into the borewell on Friday, but neither the rescuers gave up nor the boy lost his patience.
In the end, it was a happy moment and a sigh of relief for the boy's parents, locals and over 500 rescuers from various agencies who battled several odds and raced against time to save the boy after a 104-hour-long operation.
Television visuals showed the boy on a stretcher with rescuers carrying it on their shoulders from the mouth of the tunnel to an ambulance stationed nearby.
As the boy was brought out of the tunnel around midnight on Tuesday, thousands of people who had gathered at the spot applauded the rescuers and burst into chants of 'Bharat Mata ki Jai'.
Rahul Sahu was rushed to a hospital in Bilaspur by creating a green corridor for about 100 km.
His condition is stable and he will recover soon, an official from the Jangir-Champa district administration said.
His emotional father Ram Kumar Sahu thanked all those involved in the rescue operation.
The boy showed remarkable patience and did not panic, which gave strength to rescue teams, a district administration official said.
The boy fell into the unused 80-feet-deep borewell, located in the backyard of his house in Pihrid village in Malkharoda development block, around 2 pm last Friday while he was playing there.
He was stuck at a depth of around 60-feet below the surface.
After being alerted, local administration and police swung into action and rescue efforts began at 4 pm.
The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) teams were called and heavy machines, including earth movers, were deployed at the spot to dig a parallel pit, while maintaining precaution to avoid soil from caving in it as there were no casing pipes inside the borewell, an NDRF official said.
Later, a team of the Army joined the rescue efforts and experts from the Southern Eastern Coalfields Ltd and other establishments were also engaged in the task.
The child was given fluids and fruits through a rope and oxygen was pumped into the borewell via a pipe.
"The presence of hard rocks hampered the pace of construction of the tunnel, that further delayed the rescue process, but ultimately, the joint efforts yielded result and we managed to rescue the child," said Mahabir Mohanty, inspector of the NDRF's 3rd battalion, which was engaged in the rescue work.
The rescuers dug up a parallel pit, around 65-feet-deep, near the borewell and created a tunnel to reach the child which posed huge difficulties due to under-surface hard rocks and delayed the rescue work, officials said.
After the boy was rescued, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel tweeted, '..with everyone's prayers and relentless and dedicated efforts of the rescue team, Rahul Sahu has been evacuated safely. I wish that he recovers completely as soon as possible.'
The CM later visited Apollo Hospital in Bilaspur, where the child has been admitted, and said the Chhattisgarh government will bear his educational expenses.
Jangir-Champa district (rpt Jangir-Champa district) Collector Jitendra Shukla said the boy's condition is stable.
The boy's father, Ram Sahu, relieved after the rescue operation, said, "My son is a little weak mentally, but he does all the things a normal child does."
"He is particularly interested in devotional music and whenever 'bhajan-kirtan' are held in the village, he spends time there. He is good at playing tabla. Today, he has proved that he is stronger than any other normal child," the father said.
Despite being mentally challenged, the child always displayed a strong fighting spirit and learned bicycle riding, swimming and even to play dhol-tabla (musical instruments), his father Ram Sahu told PTI.
"It was his will power that helped him survive inside the borewell for five days," he said.
There were numerous challenges in the rescue operation, but dedication of rescuers and the child's surviving spirit finally prevailed.
Earlier, Rahul Sahu was admitted to a school in the village, but he had to leave it after teachers asked his father to send him to a school for special children.
"Rahul has keen interest in devotional music since he was four-five years old. Whenever he would hear a 'bhajan' or 'kirtan' held in the village, he would run to that place and sit till the end of the programme," his father said.
The boy is being treated for sepsis, a doctor at the hospital said.
Usually, the treatment of sepsis takes minimum seven days. It is difficult to predict when Rahul Sahu will be discharged, Apollo Hospital's senior consultant (paediatrician) Dr Sushil Kumar said.
"Since Rahul was inside the borewell for several hours, bacteria entered his body causing infection, and his blood test also revealed the same," he said.
The latest episode has once again highlighted the dangers posed by abandoned borewells in the country.
In 2006, a massive operation to rescue five-year-old Prince Kumar Kashyap, who had fallen into a 55-feet deep borewell in a village in Haryana's Kurukshetra, garnered national spotlight.
Over the years, many incidents of minors falling into abandoned borewells have been reported from various parts of the country, some of them with tragic consequences.
In 2009, the Supreme Court issued guidelines for preventing fatal accidents of children falling into abandoned borewells.