One of the largest and most complex cave rescues in history is currently playing out in Turkey, authorities say, after an American researcher fell ill on an expedition 1,100 metres below the surface.
Mark Dickey, an experienced caver and speleologist, was helping to map the Morca cave in Turkey’s Taurus Mountains when he suffered serious gastrointestinal bleeding near the bottom of the 1,276-metre-deep cave.
What began as “intestinal problems … rapidly progressed into life-threatening bleeding and vomiting,” according to a post from the New Jersey Initial Response Team, a group of volunteer cave rescuers Dickey is affiliated with.
Dickey fell ill at a depth of 1,120 metres, the Turkish Caving Federation said in a Monday press release, but the team around him was able to help the 40-year-old caver back up to a base camp 1,040 metres underground, where he is being treated.
The Morca cave is cold, narrow and dangerous, rescuers say, and is one of Turkey’s deepest caves. Under ideal conditions, it would take about 15 hours for an experienced caver to reach the surface from Dickey’s location.
The rescue effort for Dickey has so far involved more than 170 people, including doctors, Turkish military and cave rescuers from around the globe, The Associated Press reports. The team is working on a plan to hoist Dickey out of the cave system on a stretcher, an operation that could take up to two to three weeks in total.
As of Wednesday, Dickey’s condition is reported to have stabilized and his bleeding has stopped. The Turkish Caving Federation said Dickey is able to walk with assistance from others after rescuers were able to deliver fluids and units of blood to replenish what he had lost.
On Thursday, the organization reports that the caver’s condition is still improving and doctors are debating whether he’ll be able to climb out of the cave without a stretcher. No decision has yet been made public.
The New Jersey Initial Response Team told The Associated Press that Dickey is “very sick” but he has thankfully stopped vomiting and is able to eat for the first time in days.
In the meantime, cave rescuers at the scene have been laying rope lines and efforts are underway to widen some of the cave’s narrowest passages so that a stretcher can pass through.
Dinko Novosel, a Croatian cave rescuer who is the head of the European Association of Cave Rescuers, said it will be a challenge to successfully rescue Dickey.
“This is very complex cave rescue operation,” Novosel said. “Until now, there is no case in the world where we had a bigger cave rescue operation.”
The operation to bring him up from the depths involves rescue teams from Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Turkey. A telephone line has been dropped down in order to communicate with him.
5 killed at Bali resort after elevator plunges down ravine
Family vlogger Ruby Franke faces 6 charges for allegedly starving, abusing kids
A team of rescuers from Italy’s National Alpine and Speleological Rescue Team will be flying to Turkey on Thursday night. A total of around 50 rescuers will be at the entrance of the cave early Friday ready to participate in the operation directed by Turkish authorities.
The rescue teams hope that the extraction can begin on Saturday or Sunday.
Marton Kovacs of the Hungarian Cave Rescue Service said that once rescuers start hoisting Dickey out, it will likely take several days for him to reach the surface. He added that several temporary camps are being prepared along the way so that Dickey and rescue teams can rest.
It’s unclear what caused the caver’s medical issue.
A GoFundMe to raise money for Dickey’s rescue has raised just under US$45,000 as of Thursday afternoon.
The campaign page notes that Dickey is a cave rescuer himself, and is a well-known figure in the international caving community.
He serves as secretary of the European Cave Rescue Association’s medical committee, is an instructor for the National Cave Rescue Commission in the U.S. and is chief of the New Jersey Initial Response Team.
— With files from The Associated Press
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.