Alfredo Rampi, nicknamed Alfredino, literally little Alfredo (April 11, 1975 – June 13, 1981), died after falling into a well in Vermicino, a village near Frascati, about 20 km south-east of Rome, on 10 June 1981.
Around 19:00 on 10 June 1981, 6 year-old little boy was out on a walk with his family. When the family decided to return home, he asked his parents if he could walk back across the field to the family’s holiday house. It was a short walk and his father said yes. However, while he wandered by himself he fell into a very narrow and deep artesian well, about 30 cm wide and 80 m deep.
His father, alarmed by the absence of his son, called the police and, from that moment, began an agony that will last for 60 hours.
The agents, arrived on the spot, immediately realized the situation: the screams of little boy came from the circular opening in the ground, with a diameter of just 30 centimeters.
The firefighters also arrive immediately on the spot, trying to keep Alfredino awake, but as the hours go by, they realized that releasing him was far from easy, since the traditional means of rescue proved useless.
His position, on arrival of the first rescuers, was estimated at around 36 m below ground level.
Local firefighters initially tried to lower a simple tablet attached to a rope. The hope was that Alfredino could grab the tablet and hold on to it as the men would pull him out. However, the tablet got stuck before it could reach the child, but not only, as they weren’t even able to pull back out the object because the rope tore.
Next, 3 speleologists tried to lower themselves into the well upside-down attempting to at least remove the tablet, but all failed because the passage was too narrow for an adult to go that deep.
As time was passing, current commander of the Rome fire department Elveno Pastorelli ordered everyone to ignore the tablet and concentrate on digging up a wider, parallel shaft beside the well. His plan was to bore a tunnel as deep as 40m and then a connecting horizontal corridor that would allow rescuers to reach the little boy from below. Efforts intensified and heavy machinery was brought to the site but unfortunately the drilling caused the boy to slip an estimated 30m further down the well. In fact, at certain depths there were layers of hard rock that required the use of extreme impact tools, thus shaking the entire area. Unfortunately, the parallel tunnel was only 3m away from the well.
Even technicians and speleologists came on site, but to no avail. Then the help of contortionists, dwarves, circus performers, jockeys was asked: the result did not change, they all failed, rising to the surface with wounds and bruises, but empty-handed.
The drama caused unprecedented media attention, as the live broadcast on television went on for 18 hours nonstop.
RAI, Italian public television, recorded audiences of 21 million people at peak times, and even the Italian President at the time, Sandro Pertini, personally visited the scene. Visibly distraught, he vows not to move until Alfredino is rescued.
As rescue attempts became more desperate, 37-year-old Angelo Licheri, a volunteer, was secured and lowered into the well to try to save Alfredino. He has travelled from Rome specifically to offer his services.
After descending for 60 metres, Licheri reaches Alfredino who is very weak but still responsive. He tries to lift the little boy’s spirits, promising to buy him a new bicycle, and that he will take him fishing. However, his attempts to place a harness on Alfredino fail, as do his sustained efforts to pull him upwards, out of the mud.
And the guy slips deeper, about 60 meters below.
After 45 minutes – far more than the maximum 25 minutes considered safe for an upside-down mission – a desperate Licheri blows Alfredino a kiss and makes the agonising call to be lifted up without the boy.
When Licheri resurfaces, he faints and would be hospitalised for a month from injuries sustained in his mission. He never completely recovered from the injuries caused by the descent.
None of the further attempts to save him had success, and he only slipped down lower and lower.
The situation worsens by the hour and every rescue attempt dies. The mud inside the tunnel, the hard ground to penetrate, the confusion, the unpreparedness, the bad luck, the haste, all contribute to defeat. After many hours, Alfredino’s voice, relayed by a microphone, was getting weaker and he was declared dead at 06.36 on Saturday 13 June 1981. Another volunteer, Donato Caruso, realized that he was dead while trying once again to secure a harness on him. He managed to secure Alfredino with handcuffs but his wrist slipped out and he fell further, unable to budge his inert body from the mud.
The announcement is made by Tg1 host Massimo Valentini. In tears, the journalist reports that Alfredino’s body has slipped down, sinking for another 26 meters at the bottom of that well.
“We wanted to see a fact of life, and we have seen a fact of death. We gave up, we continued until the end. We will ask ourselves for a long time in the near future what all this was for, what we wanted to forget, what we should remember, what we should love, what we should hate. It was the registration of a defeat, unfortunately: 60 hours of struggle in vain for Alfredo Rampi”. Said Giancarlo Santalmassi during the extraordinary edition of Tg2 on 13 June 1981.
Alfredino’s body would not be recovered until 11 July, a month after he fell.
Subsequently, his mother, Franca Rampi, founded the “Rampi Center” that helps and encourages the civil protection of children.
Images from web – Google Research