Saturday, February 24, 2018
News Roundup

Man hunting for pythons finds mysterious jewelry

MIAMI — Like most people who signed up for Florida's official Burmese python hunt last winter, Mark Rubinstein slogged a couple of times through the Everglades without ever seeing one of the elusive snakes.

Something else caught his eye, though.

In the dirt along a levee, about 10 miles deep into the wetlands, Rubinstein found a gold pendant, with sapphires forming a cross inside a circle of diamonds. One edge of the penny-sized medallion was melted and misshapen.

It may have fallen from the sky. Rubinstein was hunting near the crash sites of two airplanes that went down in the same area: Eastern Flight 401, a New York flight that crashed as it prepared to land in Miami in 1972, and ValuJet Flight 592, a 1996 flight to Atlanta that caught fire shortly after takeoff and plummeted into the remote swamps west of Miami.

Rubinstein hopes to return the jewelry to its rightful owner.

"We've got to get this back to the family, if we can," he said last week.

All 104 passengers and five crew members aboard the ValuJet flight died. The Eastern flight carried 163 passengers and 13 crew members. Seventy-seven people survived, thanks in part to a Homestead man who was catching frogs from his airboat that night. He pulled survivors onto his airboat and turned his headlamp skyward so rescue helicopters could find the crash.

Invasive pythons have been able to disappear into the Everglades for a reason. Sawgrass gets its name from its sharp edges and can grow tall enough to hide predators and any sign of civilization. The wetlands are best traversed by an airboat, and guides warn tourists that anything dropped into the murk is gone for good.

Eastern Flight 401 passenger Ron Infantino spent five hours pinned by debris in the water and sawgrass, holding onto the armrest of what had been his seat on the airplane. The crash stripped him of everything, leaving him naked except for the elastic of his socks. He screamed for his wife of 20 days, Lilly, but he never heard her voice again.

"I've always wondered: Could you imagine if I went back out there and found my wallet? But, no," he said. "It took them two days to find Lilly."

His first thought of his wife when he saw a picture of the pendant Rubinstein found, but he didn't recognize it as a piece that belonged to her. Infantino, who is raising money to build a memorial to the people lost on his flight, praised Rubinstein for reaching out to the survivors and the victims' families.

When Rubinstein got the pendant home in February, he dropped it into a jewelry cleaning solution, expecting it to disintegrate. Instead, it became more lustrous and revealed an intricate leaf pattern.

The Coral Springs man, who works at a construction firm, got in touch with the Florida Gold Coast Gem & Mineral Society, which posted his find in an online forum for jewelers. Stephen Walker of Walker Metalsmiths in Andover, N.Y., spotted the post and offered his expertise in Celtic jewelry to Rubinstein.

Walker suspects the pendant belonged to someone aboard the ValuJet flight because Celtic jewelry was scarce in the 1970s and didn't become popular until the 1990s.

The pendant's bright gold color, even where it melted, indicates that it was made from high-carat gold, he said.

"Diamonds will survive anything, and sapphires will, too. These were the ideal materials to survive this. A 14-carat gold would turn into a glob," he said.

Rubinstein also took the pendant to Robert Moorman, owner of Carroll's Jewelers in Fort Lauderdale. Moorman recognized the religious symbolism in the piece, and he determined that it was handmade from 18- or 22-carat gold, probably in the 1800s or late 1700s.

Rubinstein and Moorman have a few strong leads about the pendant's possible owner.

"A perfect situation would be someone saying, 'Here's a picture of so-and-so and they're wearing it,' but you don't always get perfect," Rubinstein said.

The damaged piece is not likely worth much on its own. Moorman estimated that the gold could be salvaged for about $150, but the stones likely wouldn't sell in the current market.

If he never finds the rightful owner, Rubinstein plans to give the pendant to a museum or the Archdiocese of Miami.

"It didn't belong out there. It doesn't necessarily belong to me," Rubinstein said.

Comments

Updated: 8 minutes ago
Call her more than just a survivor

Call her more than just a survivor

TAMPA — On the quiet morning of Oct. 8, 2011, a 30-ton freight truck ran a stop sign in the small town of Clinton, Conn.It ran over Colleen Kelly Alexander, who was riding a bicycle.The truck's front wheels crushed her, then spit her to the bac...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Sheriff: Tampa crash results in natural gas leak near Citrus Park Mall

Sheriff: Tampa crash results in natural gas leak near Citrus Park Mall

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Fire Rescue responded to a crash Saturday afternoon that resulted in a natural gas leak on Citrus Park Drive, the Sheriff’s Office said. Officials said the area was evacuated and shut down from Gunn Hi...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Police: Male motorcyclist crashed, then the driver was run over by two cars

Police: Male motorcyclist crashed, then the driver was run over by two cars

TAMPA — A male motorcyclist died early Saturday morning on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the Tampa Police Department said.About 1:35 a.m., the victim rode his motorcycle west on the Courtney Campbell at high speeds, police said. The motorcycle stru...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Northeast High alumnus Jon Mott wins 3rd Gasparilla 15K crown

Northeast High alumnus Jon Mott wins 3rd Gasparilla 15K crown

TAMPA — Roughly 20 minutes into Saturday morning's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K, reigning champ A.J. Richmond glanced over his left shoulder to former college teammate Jon Mott and flashed a quick hand signal."He was telling me that t...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Broward sheriff’s office launches internal investigations amid questions after Parkland massacre

Broward sheriff’s office launches internal investigations amid questions after Parkland massacre

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating allegations that multiple deputies failed to enter Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, after the shooting rampage there, adding to the mounting internal probes examin...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Police: Registered sex offender who attacked Marriott hotel worker arrested

Police: Registered sex offender who attacked Marriott hotel worker arrested

TAMPA — A registered sex offender was arrested early Saturday morning by Tampa Police in connection with a hotel worker who was attacked earlier this week, the department said.John Eckhard, 41, was arrested about 1:30 a.m. on charges of aggravated ba...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Orchestra explores spirit of Florida and the U.S. with ‘Triptych’ and ‘New World’ Symphony

Orchestra explores spirit of Florida and the U.S. with ‘Triptych’ and ‘New World’ Symphony

ST. PETERSBURG — One of the more important programs in the Florida Orchestra’s season combined Antonin Dvorak’s best known symphony with the debut of a major commission. Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, better known as the "New World," reaches to the roots o...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Parents accused of torturing their 13 children face new charges

Parents accused of torturing their 13 children face new charges

The 13 Turpin siblings gained their freedom last month after one of them escaped through a window and called 911, ending years of imprisonment under parents accused of starving and chaining them to their beds in a putrid home not far from Los Angeles...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Activists call for tech companies to drop NRA’s digital TV channel

Activists call for tech companies to drop NRA’s digital TV channel

Activists are calling for Apple, Amazon, Google and other streaming companies to drop the National Rifle Association’s digital TV channel in the wake of the mass shooting at a Florida school last week, putting the companies in the delicate position o...
Updated: 6 hours ago