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An American researcher is trapped deep inside a Turkish cave. Here's what to know

In this screen grab from a video released Thursday, Mark Dickey, 40, talks about his conditions while trapped inside the Morca cave in southern Turkey. He is a caving instructor and rescuer.
Turkish Government Directorate of Communications
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AP
In this screen grab from a video released Thursday, Mark Dickey, 40, talks about his conditions while trapped inside the Morca cave in southern Turkey. He is a caving instructor and rescuer.

Updated September 8, 2023 at 2:22 PM ET

Recovery crews from across Europe are working to save an ailing American researcher trapped deep inside a cave in southern Turkey.

Mark Dickey, 40, was exploring the Morca cave, one of the deepest caverns in Turkey, when he suddenly fell ill last weekend. More than 3,400 feet underground, Dickey, himself a cave expert, suffered from stomach bleeding and was unable to hike back to the cave's entrance.

Over the past week, cave rescuers, doctors and paramedics rushed to find and treat Dickey inside the immense cave. As of Thursday, Cave Rescue Bulgaria saidDickey's condition was improving, adding that his bleeding had stopped and he was able to walk alone.

The second challenge, safely bringing Dickey out of the cave, has proven to be more complicated and arduous.

"Rescue missions from such deepness are very rare, extremely difficult and need many very experienced cave rescuers," the European Cave Rescue Association (ECRA) said in a statement.

ECRA addedthat they are waiting for doctors' approval to begin transporting Dickey and hope the extraction will begin in the next few days. The operation is believed to be one of the largest cave rescue efforts in recent history, according to the Speleological Federation of Turkey.

What happened

Dickey and his team were on an expedition into the Morca cave when he suddenly felt "severe gastric pain" on Saturday, the ECRA said. His condition rapidly worsened and it became clear that Dickey could not leave the cave on his own. According to the New Jersey Initial Response Team, which Dickey belongs to, the hike back to the cave's entrance from his location takes about eight hours.

That's when Dickey's team called for international help. On Sunday, the Hungarian Cave Rescue Service, along with a doctor, was the first to arrive and reach Dickey. Over the next week, teams from Bulgaria, Italy, Croatia, Poland and Turkey joined the rescue effort — setting up a telephone connection, installing rope systems inside the cave and building an underground camp. Even more international groups are on standby, the ECRA said.

European Cave Rescue Association members work next to the entrance of Morca cave near Anamur, southern Turkey, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.
Huseyin Yildiz / AP
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AP
European Cave Rescue Association members work next to the entrance of Morca cave near Anamur, in southern Turkey, on Thursday.

In a video recorded from inside the cave and obtained by Reuters, Dickey said he felt alert and able to talk, but "not healed on the inside yet." He also thanked rescuers and the Turkish government for their quick response.

"The caving world is a really tight-knit group and it is amazing to see how many people have responded on the surface," he said. "The quick response of the Turkish government to get the medical supplies that I need, in my opinion, saved my life. I was very close to the edge."

What's next

As of Friday, rescues teams are preparingtheir way out to return to the cave's entrance. The cave's path was divided into seven sections, with various teams responsible for about 600 feet of the trail.

The plan is to carefully bring Dickey about 1,000 feet closer to the cave's entrance over the next few days, Cave Rescue Bulgaria said. Doctors are also working to stabilize Dickey's health to prevent any complications during the transport.

A similar rescue in Germany in 2014 took nearly two weeks to complete. At the time, over 700 people were involvedin saving an injured German caver.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.