ISTANBUL (AP) — An American researcher was “doing well” at a Turkish hospital, officials said Tuesday, after rescuers pulled him out of a cave where he fell seriously ill and became trapped 1,000 meters (more than 3,000 feet) below its entrance for over a week.
Rescuers from Turkey and across Europe cheered and clapped as Mark Dickey, a 40-year-old experienced caver, emerged from Morca cave in southern Turkey’s Taurus Mountains strapped to a stretcher at 12:37 a.m. local time Tuesday. He was whisked to the hospital in the nearby city of Mersin in a helicopter.
Dickey fell ill on Sept. 2 with stomach bleeding. What caused his condition remained unclear.
Lying on the stretcher surrounded by reporters shortly after his rescue, he described his nine-day ordeal as a “crazy, crazy adventure.”
“It is amazing to be above ground again,” he said. A well-known cave researcher and a cave rescuer who had participated in many international expeditions, Dickey thanked the international caving community, Turkish cavers and Hungarian Cave Rescue, among others.
Dickey, who is from Croton-on-Hudson, New York, was part of an expedition to map the Morca Cave, Turkey’s third deepest, when he became sick. As he was too frail to climb out himself, cave rescue teams from Europe scrambled to help save him, mounting a challenging operation that involved pulling him up the cave’s steep vertical sections and navigating through mud and water at low temperatures in the horizontal sections.
Rescuers 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 before the operation could begin.
“It was great to see him finally get out because it was very dire in the early days of this rescue,” Carl Heitmeyer of the New Jersey Initial Response Team and a friend of Dickey’s told NBC’s “Today” show.
Asked whether he believes Dickey would return to caving, Heitmeyer said: “I hope his mom’s not watching, but I would bet on it.”
Among those who rushed to the Taurus Mountains was Dr. Zsofia Zador, a caving enthusiast and medical rescuer from the Hungarian rescue team, who was among the first to treat Dickey inside the cave.
Zador, an anesthesiologist and intensive care specialist from Budapest, was on her way to the hospital to start her early morning shift on Sept. 2, when she got news of Dickey’s condition.
The 34-year-old quickly arranged for a colleague to take her shift and rushed to gather her caving gear and medical equipment, before taking a plane to Turkey to join the rescue mission, she told The Associated Press by telephone from the camp near the entrance of the cave.
“He was relieved, and he was hopeful,” she said when asked to describe Dickey’s reaction when he saw her in the cave. “He was quite happy. We are good friends.”
Zador said Dickey was hypovolemic — or was suffering from loss of fluid and blood — but said he was in a “stable condition” by the time she reached him because paramedics had “treated him quite well.”
“It was a tricky situation because sometimes he was quite stable and it felt like he could get out on his own, but he could (deteriorate) once again,” she said. “Luckily he didn’t lose any consciousness and he saw the situation through.”
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.
Zador said she had been involved in cave rescues before but Dickey’s rescue was the “longest” she experienced.
Dickey said after his rescue that he had started to throw up large quantities of blood inside the cave.
“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.
A statement from the Mersin governor’s office said Dickey’s “general health” condition was “good”, without providing further details.
The Italian National Alpine and Speleological Corps said the rescue operation took more than 100 rescuers from around 10 counties a total of 60 hours. “Mark Dickey was in the cave for roughly 500 hours,” it said.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.