FRASCATI, Italy -- Five men were lowered one after the other down a narrow, dark well Friday in a futile attempt to rescue a 6-year-old boy trapped 213 feet underground for two days and two nights with 2,000 people and nationwide television watching.
'Mamma, mamma,' cried Alfredo Rampi over and over in a voice heard over nationwide television, 'When are you coming?'
The fourth and a fifth unsuccessful attempts to send men down the well were ordered 55 hours after the boy fell down the cold, dark shaft, and a sixth volunteer was being chosen. Three of the men were unable to fit into the well at various depths.
Rescuers also have tried to dig a tunnel to the boy but by early Saturday all efforts had been unsuccessful.
As evening fell, Italians gathered by their television sets to watch the drama, filmed live by the state TV network, and hear Alfredo's plaintive cry to his mother. It was relayed by a microphone lowered 213 feet into the well.
The third attempt ended only 12 minutes after it began when a volunteer identified only as Salvatore could not squeeze his body into the foot-wide shaft into which Alfredo fell Wednesday evening.
He had been out walking with his father but ran home alone and apparently fell down the shaft dug into a field near the building site of an unfinished apartment building.
About 2,000 people gathered at the head of the crude artesian well fell into silence as the volunteers hanging by ropes down the wellshaft radioed instructions to the men above controlling the cables holding them.
One attempt ended after a young amateur cave explorer succeeded in reaching the boy but could not slip a harness around his arms because, 'He was covered with mud, full of mud,' the cave explorer said.
'He asked me for some water and I told him we'd get it to him the next time down,' the explorer said. He was identified only as Angelo.
Two other rescuers could not fit down the narrow shaft. Another rescue volunteer, a midget whose profession is cleaning local wells, was unable to pass through a sharp turn in the shaft and hand to return to the surface.
The plight of Alfredo, whose parents also watched in grief at the wellhead, recalled the tragic case of 3-year-old Kathy Fiscus, who fell into a well-pipe 14 inches wide and slid down 120 feet in San Marino, Ca., in 1949.
Rescue teams worked for 48 hours to reach the child, but Kathy died before she could be saved.
Optimism began to fade early Saturday that Angelo could be saved.
Alfredo's doctors said the boy suffered from a heart condition, but that otherwise he is a healthy boy who requires no special medication. Throughout the anxious hours, the boy's mother Francesca and father Ferdinando, a 40-year-old accountant, stood tensely by the well-head, calling down to their son and urging him to drink the milk and sugared watered sent down to him in a thin plastic tube.
'It's water. It's good for you. Drink it,' Mrs. Rampi said.
'I don't want to,' Alfredo called back through the microphone lowered down the shaft. 'It tastes like whiskey.'
Elation spread through the crowd of 2,000 onlookers when it appeared at one point that Alfredo was about to be rescued. Pertini arrived to be on hand for the big moment.
But then a grim-faced official walked up to the Rampis to tell them Alfredo had just slipped farther into the well. They got angry and started shouting at officials to do something to save their son.
Pertini, after a while, left. The Rampis remained by the well, holding one another in grief.