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Spelunkers find wallet man lost in NY cave in 1996

September 10, 2013

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — The last time Joseph Sweet had his old wallet, he was pulling dollar bills out of it and setting them on fire to light his way out of a cave.

Seventeen years later, he’ll be getting the wallet back, thanks to a group of spelunkers.

The Watertown Daily Times reports that six members of the Niagara Frontier Grotto, a western New York chapter of the National Speleological Society, found the wallet after being the first allowed into the Watertown cave since it was sealed off after Sweet and a companion spent two days stranded underground.

City officials gave the group permission to explore the many caves that honeycomb the ground under city, located 65 miles north of Syracuse. When one of the explorers came across the black wallet Saturday, the team knew that it was Sweet’s because of the stories they had heard about the two men’s 1996 rescue, veteran caver Joseph J. Giunta said.

“It is really cool,” said Giunta, 62. “It’s an incredible story. They were very lucky, very fortunate to be alive.”

In July 1996, Sweet, then 19, and Darren Blanchard tore down a brick wall erected to keep people out of the underground maze of passages along the Black River. They had a flashlight but its batteries died when they were about 175 feet into the cave. They burned $70 in bills to keep them warm and for light, but still couldn’t find their way out.

Nearly two days later, they were rescued by firefighters.

The wallet contained paper and coin money, bank and library cards and Sweet’s driving permit. The group of western New York explorers plan to give the wallet to Sweet this weekend when they return to Watertown to start surveying and mapping out the caves.


Information from: Watertown Daily Times, http://www.watertowndailytimes.com

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