12 Sep 2023

Mark Darkey: US explorer freed from one of Turkey's deepest caves

1:41 pm on 12 September 2023

By Aoife Walsh and George Wright, BBC News

US caver Mark Dickey speaks to the camera while standing at a camp in the Morca Cave of the Taurus Mountains in southern Turkey. A US explorer trapped deep in a Turkish cave with internal bleeding said in a video released to AFP on Friday that he needed "a lot of help" getting out. Mark Dickey, 40, reported falling sick on September 2, while exploring the Morca Cave in southern Turkey's Taurus Mountains with an international team. Dickey fell ill at a depth of 1,120 metres (3,675 feet) and has been resting at a base camp located 1,040 metres underground. (Photo by HANDOUT / TURKISH DIRECTION OF COMMUNICATION / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/TURKISH DIRECTION OF COMMUNICATION " - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS...

Mark Dickey has been caving for more than 20 years (file photo). Photo: AFP / Turkish Direction of Communication

A US citizen trapped in Turkey's third deepest cave for more than a week has been pulled to safety, rescuers say.

More than 150 people were involved in efforts to save caver Mark Dickey after he developed stomach problems in the Morca Cave on 2 September.

Organisers say it was one of the largest and most complicated underground rescues ever mounted.

The lowest point of the Morca Cave, in a remote part of the south, reaches nearly 1.3km below ground.

Dickey was brought out of the cave at 00:37 local time, the Turkish Caving Federation announced on social media.

Carl Heitmeyer of the New Jersey Initial Response Team, a group Dickey leads, confirmed for BBC News that the caver had been rescued and he expressed his thanks to all those involved in the operation.

Dickey said he thought he would not survive the ordeal after his condition worsened.

"The only feeling that I think I have is this curve of 'Will I live?' It literally went through my head, I was like 'This is a bell curve'. Like seriously, I'm insane that way," he told reporters.

"It's like 'This isn't that serious, I'm not going to die', this is 'ok, like I've got some blood going on here but it's bacterial, it's an infection, whatever'.

"Then I start throwing up blood and blood is coming out in more quantity that you're going to live with if it keeps happening… I kept throwing up blood. Then my consciousness started to get harder to hold on to and I reached a point where I said, 'I'm not going to live'," he added.

Dickey's parents Debbie and Andy Dickey said the "international caving community" had "made it possible for Mark to leave Morca cave and receive further medical treatment at a hospital facility".

They said their son's rescue was "indescribably relieving" and filled them with "incredible joy".

"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.

"Our prayers have been, and are, being answered and it is hard to express the magnitude of thanks we have for the international caving community."

Dickey had been co-leading a team to map a new passage in the cave when he began to suffer from gastrointestinal bleeding.

His condition improved after he was given a blood transfusion. He was then strapped to a stretcher and was slowly carried out.

This involved navigating through tight rock tunnels and explosives had to be used at the narrowest points, according to CBS, the BBC's US partner.

A number of rescue workers from several other countries, including Croatia and Hungary, flew to Turkey to assist in the rescue.

Dickey's fiancee, Jessica Van Ord, also helped. She had remained in the cave with him while he was unwell but later climbed out.

On Thursday evening, in a video message from inside the cave, Dickey thanked the people attempting to rescue him.

"I do know that the quick response of the Turkish government to get the medical supplies that I need, in my opinion, saved my life," he said. "I was very close to the edge."

Dickey, who hails from New Jersey, is said to be a hardened caver with over 20 years' experience.

He has been an instructor with the US National Cave Rescue Commission for 10 years, teaching a variety of cave rescue classes. He is also listed as the body's International Exchange Program Co-ordinator on its website.

He had been co-leading the expedition to the Morca Cave since the end of August, according to the Hungarian Cave Rescue Service, who have also been assisting with the operation.

- This story was first published by the BBC

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