Text message helps rescuers find 19 year old trapped in Mississippi River bluff cave

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Just before his cellphone battery died, a 19-year-old man sent a text message to a friend after he'd gotten trapped in a 300-foot cave near Lilydale Regional Park in St. Paul early Sunday.

Officials told KARE 11 the text message the man sent likely saved rescuers hours of searching the bluffs along the Mississippi River for the exact location of the cave.

Rescue crews were called to a cave near Water Street and the Smith Avenue Bridge just before 1 a.m. Sunday and several hours later they rescued the man, who had fallen into a three-foot hole, which led into the cave, where he became trapped, WCCO reports.

Firefighters from St. Paul and Minneapolis' advanced tactical rescue teams got the man out of the cave at about 5 a.m., reports say.

Initially, rescuers didn't know where the opening of the cave was, and had to get maps from St. Paul Parks and Recreation. Then, using ropes and harnesses, "a rescuer went down in the opening and was able to make verbal contact with him, so then came the arduous task of extricating him from there," St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard told the Pioneer Press.

Officials said the cave had high levels or carbon monoxide and there was smoke in the cave from a campfire, KSTP says.

"[The young man] was lucky we were able to get to him as soon as we did, when we did, and we're grateful for that," Zaccard said, according to the Pioneer Press.

The man, who wasn't identified, was taken to Regions Hospital with minor injuries, officials said.

The circumstances surrounding how the man got trapped are unclear, but officials told the Pioneer Press that the man had told his parents he was going into the caves and had apparently been there with friends, but they had left or became separated.

Authorities found an abandoned car near the man's vehicle, KSTP says, so they stayed on the scene for a few more hours to make sure no one else was trapped inside.

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The labyrinth of sandstone caves along the Mississippi River have housed various things, from haunted houses to breweries to mushroom farms, FOX 9 reported last year, which has made it a popular place to explore, although officials warn against it.

Zaccard told the Pioneer Press the caves can be very dangerous because people have campfires in them, and the lack of oxygen can create a lot of carbon monoxide. He noted that five teens have died in the caves in recent years – three were killed in 2004 and two in 1992, all from carbon monoxide.

CNN reported in 2004 that city workers have tried to seal most of the entrances to the caves.

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