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Local News

September 3, 2013

Treasure-hunting Florida family strikes gold

ORLANDO, Fla. — Most treasure hunters go a lifetime and never take home a single piece of silver. But one Sanford, Fla., family is now among the divers who struck gold — and a lot of it.

The treasure-hunting Schmitt family uncovered this weekend what could be $300,000 worth of gold chains and coins off the coast of Fort Pierce.

“This is like the end of a dream,” said Rick Schmitt, who owns Booty Salvage.

The discovery came about 150 yards offshore and only 15 feet down. Schmitt’s family — along with diver and friend, Dale Zeak — said they found 64 feet of thin gold chain that weighed in at more than 3 pounds, five gold coins and a gold ring.

Brent Brisben, co-founder of 1715 Fleet — Queens Jewels LLC, the company that owns the rights to dive on the wreckage site, came up with what he called a conservative estimated value of the haul.

“To be the first person to touch an artifact in 300 years, is indescribable,” Brisben said yesterday. “They were there 150 years before the Civil War. It’s truly remarkable to be able to bring that back.”

Schmitt’s company is a subcontractor of Brisben’s company.

Things haven’t typically gone so well.

“We’re world-class recyclers,” said Schmitt’s daughter, 20-year-old Hillary Schmitt, while laughing.

Like most hunters, she was used to dredging up old beer cans and broken fishing equipment on her summer excursions aboard her family’s vessel, the AARRR Booty. She has been diving with her family since she was 6.

The centuries-old loot came from a fleet of Spanish ships struck by a strong hurricane off Florida’s coast on July 30, 1715. More than 1,000 people were killed in the storm that claimed 11 of the dozen ships.

Mounds of gold, silver and other artifacts were spilled across the ocean floor. Some was recovered in the years after the storm, but many treasure hunters and historians believe that millions of dollars in silver and gold still remain, according to the Queens Jewels website.

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