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Complex cave rescue looms in Turkey as American Mark Dickey stuck 3,200 feet inside Morca cave

Istanbul— Turkish and international cave rescue experts were working Thursday to save an American speleologist trapped at a depth of more than 3,280 feet in a cave in southern Turkey after he became ill. Mark Dickey, 40, became sick during an international expedition in Morca cave in southern Turkey’s Taurus Mountains, in the Mersin province, according to the European Cave Rescue Association. He has gastrointestinal bleeding and has been unable to leave the cave on his own, the association said on its website.

It described Dickey as “a highly trained caver and a cave rescuer himself” who is well known for his participation in many international expeditions. He is secretary of the association’s medical committee.

Dickey was on an expedition mapping the 4,186-foot-deep Morca cave system for the Anatolian Speleology Group Association (ASPEG) before becoming sick, according to Yusuf Ogrenecek of the Speleological Federation of Turkey.

Turkish disaster relief agency AFAD and rescue team UMKE were working with Turkish and international cavers on a plan to hoist Dickey out of the cave system, the rescue association said.

Ogrenecek of the Speleological Federation of Turkey told The Associated Press that Dickey’s condition had stabilized, and that he was in “good spirits.”

“Mark’s condition continues to improve,” the federation tweeted. “Doctors will decide whether it is possible for him to leave without a stretcher.”

The rescue efforts were made up of more than 170 people, including doctors and paramedics who were tending to Dickey, and other experienced cavers, Ogrenecek said, adding that the rescue operation could take as long as two or three weeks, though he said it could be shorter.

A team of rescuers from Italy’s National Alpine and Speleological Rescue Team was to fly to Turkey Thursday night. A total of around 50 rescuers were expected at the entrance of the cave early Friday ready to participate in the operation, directed by Turkish authorities.

Marton Kovacs of the Hungarian Cave Rescue Service said the cave was being prepared for Dickey’s safe extraction, with narrow passages being widened to accommodate a stretcher. The danger of falling rocks was also being addressed.

The rescue teams, from Hungary, Bulgaria, Italy, Croatia and Poland, hoped the extraction could begin Saturday or Sunday. Kovacs said lifting Dickey would likely take several days and that several bivouac points were being prepared along the way so that Dickey and the rescue teams can rest.

The cave has been divided into several sections, with each country’s rescue team being responsible for one section.

The Hungarian Cave Rescue Service, made up of volunteer rescuers, was the first to arrive at Dickey’s location and provided emergency blood transfusions to stabilize his condition.

Cave rescue operations are inherently complicated, and the dramatic rescue of a boys soccer team from a cave in Thailand in 2018 captivated the world. That effort was far more daunting than the one facing the rescuers in Turkey, as the people who needed rescuing were all young, inexperienced cavers. They had to be sedated for the extraction, which involved significant portions of underwater movement.

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