Mark Dickey was suffering from fluid and blood loss and internal bleeding before finally being rescued after 12 days underground.
An American cave researcher was pulled to safety after being trapped more than 3,000 feet underground for 12 days.
40-year-old Mark Dickey had been exploring the Morca cave, a remote, subterranean network of narrow tunnels in Turkey’s Taurus Mountains and the country’s third deepest cave. The Guardian reports Dickey was part of a team mapping the cave for the Anatolian Speleology Group Association.
On August 31, Dickey descended between 3,400 and 3,700 feet deep into the cave. Within just a couple of days, ABC News reports, he became severely ill, vomiting large quantities of blood — and no one knew the cause.
According to a statement from the New Jersey Initial Response Team, a group Dickey leads, Dickey was suffering from intestinal problems, which “rapidly progressed into life-threatening bleeding and vomiting.”
“My consciousness started to get harder to hold on to, and I reached the point where I thought: I’m not going to live,” Dickey told reporters.
Dickey’s fiancée, Jessica Van Ord, is a fellow caver and was with Dickey in the Morca cave when he became sick. She told ABC News that she didn’t know whether to stay by his side or go get help — but she recognized the tell-tale signs of internal bleeding, and her paramedic instincts kicked in. She knew she needed to get her fiancé out of there safely.
“I knew we had to get the ball rolling if there was going to be a rescue and to have treatment started,” Van Ord said.
Van Ord was able to alert responders on the surface of Dickey’s condition, spurring a massive international rescue operation involving 190 experts from all over Europe, including doctors, paramedics, and experienced cavers.
But because of the deep, narrow, and muddy nature of the cave systems, rescuers were unable to get Dickey to safety for 12 days.
One of the first doctors on the scene to treat Dickey was Dr. Zsofia Zador, a Hungarian doctor and caving enthusiast who is good friends with Dickey, according to PBS.
Zador said Dickey was hypovolemic, suffering from the loss of fluid and blood, but relieved to see her and in fairly stable condition due to good care from the paramedics.
“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.”
After giving Dickey IV fluids and blood, on September 9 doctors decided he was well enough to attempt to ascend out of the cave.
It was a difficult and dangerous journey.
Not only did the team have to carry Dickey on a gurney through dark, narrow passages, but they also had to install ropes to pull Dickey, gurney and all, up vertical shafts, navigate through mud and freezing water, and widen some of the cave’s narrowest sections so they could fit the stretcher through them. They also set up camps along the way, making frequent stops so they could give Dickey medical treatment.
Dickey was finally pulled out of the cave on September 12. He had been underground a total of 12 harrowing days. According to a statement from the Italian National Alpine and Speleological Corps, it had taken a team of more than 100 rescuers from about 10 different countries 60 hours to pull him out.
“It is amazing to be above ground again,” he told reporters and friends who greeted him outside the cave. “I was underground for far longer than ever expected.”
Dickey was taken to the hospital in the nearby city of Mersin, Turkey, shortly after his rescue. He remains hospitalized there for observation and examination to determine the cause of his illness, though he said he feels “fantastic” now.
“Once we started moving, it happened a lot faster than I expected,” he told ABC News about his rescue. “Man, I was happy to get to the surface and see those stars and smell the fresh air.”
Dickey thanked the rescuers for saving his life, calling them “heroes,” but he credited his fiancée Van Ord for being his true hero.
“She saved my life, period,” he added. “She is one hell of a woman, one hell of a caver, one hell of a rescuer, one hell of a paramedic.”
After reading about the incredible rescue of Mark Dickey, read about the youth soccer team that got trapped in a cave in Thailand. Or, read about the climber behind the true story of “127 Hours.”