Python Hunter Finds Mysterious Jewelry in Everglades (plane crash relic?)
MIAMI - Like most people who signed up for Florida’s official Burmese python hunt last winter, Mark Rubinstein slogged a couple 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.
Python hunter Mark Rubinstein hopes to return the jewelry to its rightful owner.
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.