Rescuers pulled an American researcher out of a Turkish cave early Tuesday, more than a week after he became seriously ill 1,000 meters (more than 3,000 feet) below its entrance, the Speleological Federation of Turkey said.
Teams from across Europe had rushed to Morca cave in southern Turkey’s Taurus Mountains to aid Mark Dickey, a 40-year-old experienced caver who became seriously ill on Sept. 2 with stomach bleeding. He was on an expedition to map the cave, which is the country’s third deepest.
Dickey was too frail to climb out himself, so rescuers carried him with the help of a stretcher, making frequent stops at temporary camps set up along the way before he finally reached the surface early Tuesday.
“Mark Dickey is out of the Morca cave,” said a statement by the speleological federation. It said that Dickey was removed from the last exit of the cave at 12:37 a.m. local time Tuesday, or 9:37 p.m. GMT Monday.
“He is fine and is being tended to by emergency medical workers in the encampment above,” the statement said.
Lying on a stretcher surrounded by reporters following his rescue, Dickey described the ordeal as a “crazy, crazy adventure.”
“It is amazing to be above ground again,” he said, thanking the Turkish government for saving his life with its rapid response. He also thanked the international caving community, Turkish cavers and Hungarian Cave Rescue, among others.
The American was first treated inside the cave by a Hungarian doctor who went down the cave on Sept. 3. Doctors and rescuers then took turns caring for him. The cause of Dickey’s illness was not clear.
On Tuesday, Dickey said that in the cave he had started to throw up large quantities of blood.
“My consciousness started to get harder to hold on to, and I reached the point where I thought ‘I’m not going to live,'” he told reporters.
The biggest challenges for the rescuers getting him out of the cave were the steep vertical sections and navigating through mud and water at low temperatures in the horizontal sections. There was also the psychological toll of staying inside a dark, damp cave for extended periods of time.
Around 190 experts from Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Turkey took part in the rescue, including doctors, paramedics and experienced cavers. Teams comprised of a doctor and three to four other rescuers took turns staying by his side at all times.
The rescue began on Saturday after doctors, who administered IV fluids and blood, determined that Dickey could make the arduous ascent.
Before the evacuation could begin, rescuers first had to widen some of the cave’s narrow passages, install ropes to pull him up vertical shafts on a stretcher and set up temporary camps along the way.
Dickey, who is from Croton-on-Hudson, New York, is a well-known cave researcher and a cave rescuer himself who had participated in many international expeditions.
He and several other people on the expedition were mapping the 1,276-meter (4,186-foot) deep Morca cave system for the Anatolian Speleology Group Association. Dickey became ill on Sept. 2, but it took until the next morning to notify people above ground.
Turkish authorities made a video message available that showed Dickey standing and moving around on Thursday. While alert and talking, he said he was not “healed on the inside” and needed a lot of help to get out of the cave.
After his rescue, the head of Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, Okay Memis, told a news conference that the health of Dickey was “very good.”
The European Cave Rescue Association said many cave rescuers remained in the cave to remove rope and rescue equipment used during the operation.
The association expressed its “huge gratitude to the many cave rescuers from seven different countries who contributed to the success of this cave rescue operation.”
“The fact that our son, Mark Dickey, has been moved out of Morca Cave in stable condition is indescribably relieving and fills us with incredible joy,” Mark’s parents, Debbie and Andy Dickey, said in a statement.