SEBASTIAN INLET, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35 ORLANDO) -
All Eric Schmitt saw was just a tiny corner of a golden ornate Spanish artifact on the sea floor, but he says it was just enough for him to instantly know he’d hit the sunken treasure jackpot. In fact, the Sanford treasure hunter can be heard screaming on underwater camera footage he says captured the moment he removed the Spanish artifact from it's 300-year-old resting place.
“Nothing has ever looked like that before,” the 27-year-old diver told a room full of media inside a Sebastian hotel conference room on Wednesday. “It could only be the missing piece.”
The Schmitt Family, which includes two generations of treasure hunters, say the "missing piece" is an insert to a golden Catholic pyx, found 25 years ago and just 300 feet from the Schmitt’s Memorial Day discovery. The two pyx pieces are a small part of Spanish artifacts and treasure scattered along the ocean floor when eleven Spanish galleons were sunk by a hurricane off the coast of Fort Pierce in 1715.
“This was an artifact that would have been a vessel, for a consecrated Eucharist, most likely held by a high ranking Catholic church official,” said Brent Brisben, whose company serves as the State of Florida’s court ordered custodian of ship’s wreckage.
The family claims an underwater camera mounted to Eric's head captured the Schmitt's reaction aboard the boat during the Memorial Day discovery, as well as the moment Eric found the treasured artifact.
“It's almost too much, to be honest with you,” said Rick Schmitt, the family patriarch and veteran treasure hunter of over fifty years.
Rick, Eric’s father, says the family struck gold twice in the same spot. Last year, they found half a million dollars of Spanish gold coins in the same location where they discovered the missing piece of the golden pyx. Although it hasn't been appraised yet, the companion piece is valued at $600,000 dollars.
Rick says he’s spent decades sifting through sand and rock on the ocean floor at the wreck location, but watching his family, and particularly his son, find the valuable golden artifact, as special moment for him.
“You work with your family, and you know it took that team to do that. That makes it way more special,” he said.
The Schmitt family says there are a lot more priceless artifacts and jewelry out there in the ocean off the coast of Fort Pierce. In fact, they say there are three heavy boxes of jewelry that was supposed to go back to the Queen of Spain before the storm buried them on the ocean floor.