American caver hoisted to safety after 12 days in Turkish cave


(NEW YORK) — Mark Dickey, 40, had been trapped inside the Morca Cave in southern Turkey’s Taurus Mountains since Aug. 31, when he fell ill more than 3,400 feet below the surface, according to the New Jersey Initial Response Team, a group he leads.

“It is amazing to be above ground again,” Dickey told reporters after the rescue, according to Reuters. “I was underground far longer than ever expected.”

Dickey was extracted from the cave around 12:37 a.m. local time on Tuesday, the Turkish Caving Federation announced, describing the operation as “successful.”

“We congratulate all those who contributed!” the caving organization said.

As of late Tuesday morning, Dickey remains hospitalized in intensive care unit in the southern port city of Mersin for further examination and observation. He is in good condition, according to Turkish authorities.

Dickey will hold a press conference on Wednesday morning from the hospital if his health allows it, Turkish authorities said. It remains unclear when he will be able to be transferred to the United States.

Dickey told reporters he initially thought he was going to survive but as he got sicker, he began to have doubts.

“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 said.

The New Jersey Initial Response Team thanked the Turkish Ministry of National Defence, the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, the European Cave Rescue Association for their efforts in rescuing Dickey, as well as the cave rescuers for “their hard core caving ability,” the organization told ABC News in a statement.

Video taken from the scene showed Dickey lying on a stretcher as he was lifted through the cave 12 days after he became trapped.

A rescue team carried Dickey on a stretcher, resting in a rest area with 590 feet left before they took him the final distance.

“The fact that our son, Mark Dickey, has been moved out of Morca Cave in stable condition is indescribably relieving and fills us with incredible joy. It is, we know, an event that all involved in the extensive rescue effort worked so significantly hard for,” his parents told ABC News in a statement.

“Mark is strong and we believe in his strength, but fully knew that he was in dire need of tremendous and immediate support. We are so very thankful and grateful that the support he needed was given to him and that the first medical rescue team to arrive reached him when they did,” his parents said.

A team that includes medical staff began an evacuation late last week after his condition improved enough to move him, caving officials said. Volunteers had previously worked to clear a path to the surface.

When the Hungarian Cave Rescue Service arrived on Sunday, Dickey was in serious, life-threatening condition, officials said. Life-saving medical intervention included high doses of medication for his stomach and a blood transfusion.

Dickey’s condition improved enough for him to return to his feet following the intervention, rescuers said.

The team carrying the stretcher had passed a bivouac site about 500 meters, or 1,640 feet, below the surface on Sunday, the European Cave Rescue Association said.

“The medical status of the casualty is stable,” the association had said in a statement Sunday evening. “The next planned stop is at -300 m. The members of the different rescue teams are in a good physical condition.”

“He has not had any bleeding or vomiting for at least 2 days,” Sener said in a statement posted in Turkish on social media. “All vital signs, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, state of consciousness, cooperation are all completely healthy.”

Dickey had been assisting in the exploration of the cave when he “suddenly became ill with intestinal problems that rapidly progressed into life-threatening bleeding and vomiting,” the New Jersey Initial Response Team said in a statement previously. Dickey serves as the leader of that group, a collection of volunteers who specialize in cave and mine rescues.

“I don’t know what to say, this is overwhelming, this is a first,” Dickey told reporters.

ABC News’ Engin Bas, Miles Cohen, Aicha El Hammar Castano, Guy Davies, Teddy Grant, Doug Lantz and Marcus Moore contributed to this report.

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