A dramatic and complex international rescue operation to save an American man from one of Turkey’s deepest caves ended successfully on Tuesday – more than a week after after he fell seriously ill and became too frail to make his own way out.
An accomplished and experienced caver, Mark Dickey, 40, had been part of a research group on an exploration mission in the Morca Cave when he reportedly began suffering from gastrointestinal bleeding.
The cave is located in the Taurus Mountain range in southern Turkey and reaches depths of up to 1,276 meters (4,186 feet).
A huge rescue effort was launched involving multiple teams of experienced cavers from around the world alongside Turkish specialists.
“Mark Dickey is out in the hands of a rescue worker (and) seems fine at first look,” Recep Salci of Turkey’s disaster and emergency management authority (AFAD) said on Tuesday as footage emerged of Dickey being stretchered out of the cave with a grin on his face.
Speaking near the cave at a medical tent, Dickey said it was “amazing to be above ground again” and thanked rescue teams and the Turkish government for saving his life with “literally no questions asked.”
“I was underground for far longer than ever expected with an unexpected medical issue,” he said.
“I don’t quite know what’s happened but I do know that the quick response by the Turkish government to get the medical supplies that I needed in my opinion saved my life. I was very close to the edge,” he added.
Dickey’s parents Debbie and Andy hailed the successful rescue operation, saying news that their son was safe was “indescribably relieving and fills us with incredible joy”.
“It is an event that all involved in the extensive rescue effort worked so significantly hard for,” they said, adding that it had been a “tremendous outpouring of help” – also thanking the Turkish government.
“Mark is strong and we believe in his strength but fully knew that he was in dire need of tremendous and immediate support,” they said.
The cave where Dickey was trapped comprises of steep vertical shafts and many deep pits as well as narrow passageways, Agnes Berentes a photographer from Hungary who had been in it, told Reuters.
The temperatures deep blow were also very wet and cold, Berentes, estimating it to be around 4 degrees Celsius (39 Fahrenheit).
Adding to risks and complications was his health as he was suffering severe stomach bleeding. His condition was so severe at one point that medics and rescuers had to give him a blood transfusion down in the depths of the cave.
The European Cave Rescue Association (ECRA) said it first received a call on September 2 alerting them to Dickey’s plight.
That sparked an international rescue operation led by at least 200 aid workers from countries such as the US, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Ukraine.
Rescue efforts were divided into seven parts at various depths, ECRA officials said. Teams worked around the clock and managed to move Dickey to 180 meters (590 feet) below surface, eventually retrieving him from the cave.
The Turkish Caving Federation confirmed that Dickey had been successfully removed from at 12:37 am local time early on Tuesday.
A doctor had been with Dickey inside the cave and rescue teams received instant updates from them through an established communications line.
In dramatic stills taken at the scene, he could be seen lying back and being pulled out by rescue workers on harnesses.
An experienced instructor with the National Cave Rescue Commission for a decade, Dickey had explored caves across 20 different US states and in 10 different countries, according to the Caving Academy, a non-profit for cavers he founded.
He started caving in the 1990s and also served as a medical commission secretary at the European Cave Rescue Association and executive director at the Caving Academy.
Correction: The headline of this story has been corrected to reflect how long Dickey was trapped.