See more of the story

An urban explorer died Sunday after being swept into the Mississippi River in St. Paul when a bluffside tunnel he and a companion were exploring filled with rainwater during a thunderstorm.

Ian William Talty, 30, of Woodbury, died despite a frantic rescue effort by a St. Paul police officer and several students from the nearby University of St. Thomas, said St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard.

Talty's companion, Nicholas Breid, swam to shore and survived.

Breid, 29, of Richfield, was evaluated at a hospital and released to his wife, Zaccard said, adding that he "didn't have any injuries, but he was very, very shaken up."

The men, who were exploring and photographing the tunnel, became trapped by rushing water when a thunderstorm erupted just before 10 a.m. They were swept into the river south of the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue Bridge, on the St. Paul side of the river.

Breid "made his way to shore and started screaming for help," Zaccard said.

Three students from the University of St. Thomas crew club who were helping take down an old dock on the Minneapolis side of the river heard his cry for help, called 911, jumped into motorized aluminum boats and made their way across the river.

"They were done with their work when they heard the yells," said Doug Hennes, a St. Thomas spokesman. "They couldn't see the person ... but they ran down, got the boats out and away they went."

The three students -- Danielle Assie, Jim Portmann and Kyle Smisek -- were joined by an unidentified member of the Minneapolis Rowing Club, Hennes said.

Arriving about the same time was a St. Paul police officer, who commandeered one of the boats and went with a couple of the students to look for Talty, Zaccard said Sunday.

They found him about 500 yards south of the bridge.

"Jim and I were in one boat and a St. Paul police officer got in the launch [boat] with us," Assie told the St. Thomas Web-based publication Bulletin Today. "We went up and down the river a couple of times looking for anything ... the third time, Jim saw a backpack floating in the river."

It was Talty. The students and the St. Paul police officer pulled him into their boat.

By that time, dozens of police officers and fire and paramedic personnel had arrived, Zaccard said.

On shore, the police officer and the students administered CPR. Within seven minutes of the initial call, a police boat arrived to rush Talty to the rowing club for further CPR, Zaccard said.

Hennes said the students were shaken up afterward. "They're disappointed they didn't get there quicker," he said. "Who knows what might have happened if they had?"

Talty was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, where he was pronounced dead, according to the Hennepin County medical examiner's office.

An autopsy is planned before the official cause and manner of Talty's death are released and the case remains under investigation, the medical examiner said.

"They pulled him out of the water, and I was hoping for the best," Deputy Fire Chief Dave Galbraith said. "But ... he succumbed."

Questions remain

It was also unclear Sunday how high up the tunnel was from the river or how popular the immediate area is for urban exploring.

Zaccard and Galbraith said the tunnel is among several found along the river bluffs. It is not unusual for water to flow through the tunnels during a storm, they said.

"A lot of people like to go down there exploring," Galbraith said. "I guess that's what these guys were doing."

Over the years, St. Paul's bluffside caves have drawn many urban adventurers who explore and sometimes photograph tunnels, caves, rail tracks, large drains, deserted factories and other rarely seen areas.

Talty, apparently an avid urban adventurer, took photographs that are posted on at least two websites dedicated to urban exploring.

Zaccard said he did not know if the area was marked as "no trespassing" like several tunnels and caves on St. Paul's West Side where urban explorers have died in years past.

The tunnel that flooded Sunday has not been the site of any previous accidents, although authorities have repeatedly warned that any such formation poses potential dangers, he said.

"We've had several young people killed over the years from carbon monoxide fires in these tunnels and caves," he said. "Now we've had a drowning."

Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280