Disaster Strikes for US Cave Explorer

150 people work to free scientist Mark Dickey, who fell ill deep inside Turkey's Morca Cave
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 7, 2023 9:08 AM CDT

Crews are desperately working to save an American cave explorer stuck some 4,000 feet underground in Turkey's third-deepest cavern. Mark Dickey, 40, a cave scientist and rescuer himself, was part of a team of 15 explorers who ventured into the Morca Cave in the remote Taurus mountain belt to map unknown pathways. The mostly vertical cave is 4,186 feet deep, according to the Turkish Caving Federation, and is thought to have unexplored chimneys that reach even deeper into the Earth. According to his website, Dickey had been looking to explore these chimneys and take fungus samples, per the Independent. Instead, he "fell ill" Saturday at a most inconvenient location, at a depth of 3,675 feet, per CNN.

He developed a cough, found blood in his stools, and became "semiconscious for three days," per NBC News. The caving federation said six units of blood were delivered to him so he could be treated for a serious gastrointestinal bleed. Accompanied by doctors, he is now said to be stable and able to walk on his own. But you can't just walk out of Morca Cave. It takes an experienced climber 15 hours to reach the surface. "Some of the passages are filled with water, and there are tight squeezes and corkscrews," says a rep for the New Jersey Initial Response Team, where Dickey serves as chief, per NBC. The speleologist was taken to a base camp at a depth of 3,412 feet and has been awaiting a hoist since.

The federation says that more than 150 rescuers from countries including the US, Hungary, Italy and Croatia, are involved in the operation to free him, which "is logistically and technically one of the largest cave rescues in the world," per the caving federation. Extraction could begin Saturday or Sunday, per the AP, as rescuers need days to prepare. The cave's narrow passages need to be widened for a stretcher. Rope lines also need to be installed, according to the Alabama-based National Cave Rescue Commission, where Dickey has been an instructor for a decade. In a statement, Dickey's parents thanked all those working "to allow a devastatingly scary situation to turn positive," per NBC. A GoFundMe page has raised $42,000 so far for the effort. (More rescue stories.)

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