Seriously ill US explorer describes his ‘crazy adventure’ after Turkey cave rescue

A US explorer rescued from a Turkish cave more than a week after he fell seriously ill has described the ordeal as a “crazy, crazy adventure”.

Mark Dickey, 40, developed stomach problems on 2 September while examining the depths of the Morca cave, a remote complex of narrow underground tunnels in southern Turkey’s Taurus mountains.

He was finally brought back to the surface late on Monday, according to the Speleological Federation of Turkey.

“Mark Dickey is out of the Morca cave. He is fine and is being tended to by emergency medical worker in the encampment above,” the federation said. “Thus, the cave rescue part of the operation has ended successfully. We congratulate all those who have contributed!”

US explorer Mark Dickey is lifted out of the Morca cave.
US explorer Mark Dickey is lifted out of the Morca cave. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“It is amazing to be above ground again,” Dickey told reporters as he lay on a stretcher in the early hours of Tuesday. He thanked the Turkish government for saving his life with its rapid response as well as the international caving community, Turkish cavers and Hungarian Cave Rescue, among others.

The Morca cave is Turkey’s third-deepest, its lowest point reaching nearly 1.3km (0.8 miles) below ground. Dickey and several other people on the expedition were mapping the cave system for the Anatolian Speleology Group Association.

Rescuers watch as Mark Dickey is lifted from the Morca cave.
About 190 experts from seven countries took part in Mark Dickey’s rescue. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Dickey fell ill at a depth of 1,120 metres (3,700ft), sparking what organisers said was one of the largest and most complicated underground rescue operations ever mounted.

The American was first treated inside the cave by a Hungarian doctor who went down the cave on 3 September. 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 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.

Mark Dickey is transported to an ambulance on a stretcher after his rescue.
Mark Dickey is transported to an ambulance on a stretcher after his rescue. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Before the successful rescue, officials said Dickey’s health had been steadily improving for a few days.

“He is in good health in general. He continues to be fed with liquids,” Cenk Yildiz, the head of the local branch of Turkey’s emergency response service, told reporters late on Sunday.

“We have resolved his stomach bleeding issues with plasma and serum support.”

Dickey became ill on 2 September, 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 (Ecra) said many 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.”

In an earlier statement it had said Dickey was a “well-known figure in the international speleological community, a highly trained caver, and a cave rescuer himself.”

“In addition to his activities as a speleologist, he is also the secretary of the Ecra medical committee and an instructor for cave rescue organisations in the USA.”

In a statement, Dickey’s parents said they were filled with “incredible joy” at the news of his safe removal from the cave.

Agence France-Presse and Associated Press contributed to this report