Teen rescued from St. Paul cave thought he was going to die

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A teenager who was rescued from a cave in St. Paul early Sunday morning says he thought he was going to die and he was "fighting to survive."

Travis Bungum, 18, of Hudson, Wisconsin, was exploring a cave in the Mississippi River bluffs Saturday night with some people who he thought were his friends, but they left him behind with no equipment or supplies. Luckily he had his cellphone with him, along with two lighters, reports say.

"I tried climbing down with the light of my lighters, slipped and fell down a 20-foot shaft," Bungum told the Pioneer Press Monday.

Bungum eventually found a high point in the cave where he could get a cellphone signal. He was able to send a text message to his friend Katie McKelvey, FOX 9 says. Eventually, Bungum got a call to go through, and he talked to McKelvey for less than a minute before his phone battery died.

"I was soaked and cold," Bungum told the Pioneer Press. "I made my way back around looking for ways out with lighters 'cause my phone died. I scavenged for whatever I could burn to start a fire for heat. I was trapped. I was fighting to survive."

The smoke from the fire he'd made had built up, creating high levels of carbon monoxide in the poorly-ventilated cave.

"The smoke built up. I was burning everything I could find down there," Bungum told FOX 9. "I was in and out of consciousness the entire time."

It took rescuers nearly five hours to find Bungum in the cave – the only directions they got were that the cave was located near a bridge, the Pioneer Press says. However, officials told KARE 11 the information Bungum gave his friend did help them find him faster.

Bungum was taken to Regions Hospital where he was treated for smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. He also suffered hairline fractures in his arm, as well as cuts and bruises, reports say.

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'No trespassing'

Bungum was in Lambert's Cave in the Lilydale Regional Park, up the bluffs from Water Street near High Bridge. The main entrance to the cave had been sealed off years ago and it's likely he entered the cave through a recently opened vent hole, the Pioneer Press says, which the city plans to close as quickly as possible.

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

Officials say the caves are dangerous – and the City of St. Paul sealed the entrances to 20 to 30 of them after three teenagers died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2004. Two other teenagers died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 1992, CNN reported.

Since the 2004 incident, the city has been monitoring the caves and posting "no trespassing" signs along the bluffs to deter people from going in them because they're unsafe.

An official with the city's parks and recreation department told the Pioneer Press the department is discussing possible charges against Bungum for entering the caves.

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