A rescue operation has been launched to save American caver Mark Dickey, who is stranded hundreds of meters underground in southern Turkey.
The operation began at 3.28 p.m. local time (8.28 a.m. ET) on Saturday, according to Turkey’s Caving Federation – a week after Dickey first became ill during an exploration mission.
“Mark’s transport in a stretcher has started at 15:28 local time (GMT+3),” Turkey’s Caving Federation wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Bulent Genc, head of the caving federation, told CNN Thursday that the rescue could take days due to the fact that the cave is deep and narrow, but some experts say it could take up to two weeks.
Dickey fell ill at the weekend with suspected gastrointestinal bleeding during a mission of the 1,276 meters-deep (4,186 feet) Morca Sinkhole in Morca Valley, near Anamur, southern Turkey, according to the Turkish Caving Federation.
The European Cave Rescue Association (ECRA) received a call on September 2 saying that Dickey was suffering from severe gastric pain, and the next day it was reported that help from outside was needed because of his “rising destabilization.” His condition has since stabilized, according to the Turkish Caving Federation.
Nearly 200 rescuers are on site working to get Dickey out, said Recep Salci of Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), including dozens of people who are working inside the cave.
“Some parts of the cave are very narrow, so this will be a tough operation,” Salci said, adding that a stretcher will be used to assist Dickey out of the cave.
Doctors had been working on improving Dickey’s health so that the “difficult” ascent to the surface can begin “without further complications,” the ECRA said Friday, noting that “rescue teams are preparing the way out to the entrance by installing additional ropes and fixings.”
The operation plans to divide the cave into seven parts and assign responsibility to the rescue teams of different countries at various depths, the ECRA said. Turkish, Hungarian, Polish, Italian, Croatian and Bulgarian teams are all involved in the rescue.
Dickey became ill and was placed under observation at the cave base camp, the federation said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
A doctor is with Dickey in the cave, and the rescue team is receiving instant messages from them through an established communications line.
In a video shared by Turkey’s directorate of communications on Wednesday, Dickey said that although he was “very close to the edge,” a quick response by Turkish authorities likely saved his life.
“As you can see I’m up, I’m alert, I’m talking. But I’m not healed on the inside yet so I’m going to need a lot of help to get out of here,” he said, praising the caving community.
“This is often in the caving world, a great opportunity to show just how well the international world can work together. So I’m hoping to see many people from many countries all coming together. We take care of our own. And it’s really special to be taken care of.”
The rescue operation, which was first announced on Monday, could take days due to the fact that the cave is deep and narrow, Bulent Genc, head of the federation, told CNN Thursday, adding that it can take 15 hours for an experienced caver to reach the surface in ideal conditions.
A rescue mission at this depth is “very rare, extremely difficult” and needs “many very experienced cave rescuers,” according to the ECRA, which is involved in the operation.
Gretchen Baker, from National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC), who has known and worked with Dickey for several years and has been in communication with the rescue team, expressed cautious optimism about Dickey’s safe passage out of the cave.
In an interview with CNN’s Isa Soares on Thursday, Baker said “the team on the ground is very happy that Mark’s condition seems to be improving, so that it looks like that he will not have to be in a [rescue] litter the entire way out.”
“The more he can help, the faster the rescue can go,” she said.
Despite Dickey’s improving medical situation, Baker said even with him helping, the rescue operation still has some way to go.
“We’re anticipating that it will take days to get him out of the cave,” she said.