(CNN) — The operation to rescue American caver Mark Dickey, stranded about 3,600 feet underground in southern Turkey, could start Saturday – a week after he first became ill – a director at Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) told CNN Friday.
Dickey fell ill at the weekend with suspected gastrointestinal bleeding during a exploration 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.
Some 182 rescuers are on site working to get Dickey out, said Recep Salci of AFAD, including 32 people who are working inside the cave.
Rescuers will decide on Saturday morning, once they have further assessed Dickey’s medical situation, when he could start the ascent to safety, Salci reported from the site, noting that the rescue will be a difficult operation likely to last approximately four days.
While Dickey’s condition is stable, rescuers will wait for it to improve furher before they can start the operation, Salci told CNN.
“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.
Dickey became ill at a depth of 1,120 meters (3,675 feet) and was placed under observation at the cave base camp located at 1,040 meters (3,412 feet), the federation said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
An international rescue team from the US, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Ukraine and Turkey are amongst those on site.
A doctor is with Dickey in the cave, and the rescue team is receiving instant messages from them through an established communications line.
‘I’m going to need a lot of help to get out of here’
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.
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