Mersin, Turkey — American researcher Mark Dickey, who was rescued earlier this week after becoming stuck more than 3,000 feet deep in a Turkish cave, has shared his incredible survival story with CBS News. Dickey, 40, is an experienced caver, but he got stranded deep inside Turkey’s Morca cave system after becoming seriously ill on September 2.
He was pulled to safety more than a week later, thanks to an international rescue effort involving almost 200 people, but after suffering from internal bleeding, there were times when Dickey said he was barely clinging to life.
Recovering Thursday in a hospital in the city of Mersin, he smiled, laughed, and even walked along as he told CBS News that he had opened the door of death, but managed to close it again thanks to the herculean efforts of everyone who rushed in to help.
Doctors were still scanning the American’s body to try to figure out what caused the severe internal bleeding, but Dickey told us he always knew the risks involved with his work, and his passion.
“Caving is not inherently a dangerous sport,” he said. “But it’s a dangerous location.”
“There’s a point you cross,” said Dickey, “which is kind of — you get hurt after this, and you very well might die.”
He was 3,000 feet underground when he started vomiting blood. He told CBS News his first thought was, “What the hell is going on? I don’t know, but I’m probably going to be fine.”
The situation deteriorated rapidly, however, and as more blood came up, he realized it was “really bad.”
He still didn’t know the cause of his ailment, but he knew he “must get back to camp right now.”
Dickey’s team sent word to the surface that he needed a rescue, and fast.
“Within the next couple hours, it became very apparent that everything was not okay,” he recalled.
It was also apparent to Jessica van Ord, Dickey’s partner, a trained paramedic and cave rescuer who was with him when he took a turn for the worse.
“Technically I was the first rescuer on the scene,” she told CBS News. “He was curled up in the fetal position and I could just feel his pain, and I didn’t yet know that he was thinking that he was on the verge of death.”
Above ground, a multinational rescue effort was swinging into action. Scores of volunteers and medics flew in, bringing down blood and fluids to keep Dickey stable.
Teams from Europe and Turkey were assigned sections of the cave, told to devise solutions to help Dickey make the ascent as quickly as possible. Each section presented its own challenges, with twists and turns, narrow passages and fridged pools of water to navigate over a distance more than twice the height of the Empire State Building.
During most of the rescue, Dickey was cocooned on a stretcher, hooked up to an IV, and with a doctor always by his side.
Eleven days later, he emerged.
“It was a crazy, crazy adventure” he said right after reaching the surface.
But even after the ordeal, Dickey told CBS News he has no intention of abandoning caving — “never!”
“The places that I go, no human has gone before,” he said. “The places that I’m getting to are so challenging, so difficult, so remote.”
He said he’d seen people compare cave exploration to climbing Mount Everest.
“These are the extremes of the world,” he said. “This is a calm, cool, collected, careful sport, and through that, you can get to amazing places.”
Dickey said he would remain in the hospital for further scans until next week, but he’s already thinking about next month, when he hopes to dive back into the Earth — to keep exploring those amazing places.