A family of scuba-diving treasure hunters found the score of a lifetime on the ocean floor off Florida's Atlantic coast—gold chains and coins that may be worth up to half a million dollars.
The Schmitt family of Sanford, Fla., owners of the Booty Salvage company, went diving for treasure off the coast of Fort Pierce over Labor Day weekend. Just 15 feet down, boat captain Eric Schmitt spotted something shiny. By the end of the day, he had found eight gold chains and an assortment of gold coins.
The items are believed to have come from a Spanish gallion that sank in 1715, and have been appraised for an estimated $500,000.
“A majority of the day we hadn’t found much,” says Eric's sister, Hillary Schmitt, who gives her title as “pirate wench.” “Then we found our first article, one thin chain. And after that we found more chains and some gold coins. We all cried and screamed and it was definitely an unreal feeling.”
Brent Bisben is the owner of 1715 Fleet Queens Jewels, which holds the rights to dive in the area (the Schmitts are subcontractors). He calls the find "astonishing."
"To be one of the first people that holds artifacts that are over 300 years old, it's remarkable," Bisben says. "You never get tired of it."
He notes the items are in remarkably well-perserved condition.
"Gold comes out almost like the day it was made," he says. "It is such a pure mineral. It doesn’t corrode. To give it context, this stuff was laying out there 150 years before the Civil War."
By law, up to 20 percent of the haul must go to the state of Florida, with the rest split between the Schmitts and Bisben's company. The Schmitts, however, say they won't sell any of their share.
“We plan to keep it as a family,” says Hillary. “We never expected to get rich off this. We do it for the love that we have for treasure hunting, for finding part of history."
Meanwhile, Brisben says that, based on the ship manifests, there is a lot more about treasure on the ocean floor to be found—as much as $400 million worth.
"Eric always believed that this day would come," he says. "He never wavered though all the hard days of finding garbage. I’m extremely happy for him."