MIAMI – A partly melted gold pendant found in the Everglades near the crash sites of two commercial airplanes remains unclaimed.
It was found by Mark Rubinstein of Coral Springs during Florida's official Burmese python hunt last winter. He was hunting in a remote, swampy area west of Miami where two planes went down: Eastern Flight 401 in 1972 and ValuJet Flight 592 in 1996.
Rubinstein hoped to return the penny-sized pendant with diamonds circling a cross of sapphires to the family of one of the crash victims.
However, the executive director of the National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation said Thursday that none of the families who lost loved ones aboard the ValuJet flight have claimed the piece. The grassroots air safety organization represents crash survivors and victims' families.
"The ValuJet family members have been well informed about the pendant, however, no one has said it belonged to their loved one," Gail Dunham said in an e-mail.
She planned to continue reminding the ValuJet families about the pendant, especially as the crash's 20th anniversary approaches, which may draw the attention of any victim's relatives who have lost touch.
"Let's just keep the pendant safe for now," Dunham said.
No one from the Eastern crash has identified the pendant, either. The plane was carrying 163 passengers and 13 crew members to Miami from New York when it crashed as it prepared to land.
Seventy-seven people survived and some are raising money to build a memorial to the people lost on their flight.
The ValuJet plane was bound for Atlanta when it caught fire shortly after taking off from Miami. The crash killed 104 passengers and five crew members on board.
One edge of the pendant is melted and misshapen, and it's unlikely that a tourist simply lost it amid the sawgrass and water. It caught Rubinstein's eye in the dirt along a levee, about 10 miles deep into the wetlands.
The Everglades are best traversed by airboat, and guides warn tourists to hold tightly to valuables because anything dropped out there usually is gone for good.
Jewelers who examined Rubinstein's find said the pendant was made of the ideal materials to survive a plane crash: diamonds, sapphires and 18- or 22-carat gold, which still retains a bright sheen even where it's melted.
Stephen Walker of Walker Metalsmiths in Andover, N.Y., consulted with Rubinstein on the pendant and took it to the material sciences laboratory at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y.
Testing showed that titanium, which is used in aircrafts, and elements consistent with the cremation of human remains had melted into the pendant, leaving little doubt that it came from one of the plane crashes, Walker said.
"The horror of it was that someone was on an airplane wearing it when it burned," Walker said.
Walker initially thought the pendant had a Celtic design, but now he believes the piece may have a French origin. It's handmade and contains platinum that French jewelers were using in the 1800s before jewelers elsewhere, and it appears to bear the letters of a religious phrase in French, Walker said.
Rubinstein still has the pendant, Walker said. Messages left for Rubinstein were not immediately returned, but he has previously said that if no one ever claimed the pendant, he would donate it to a museum or the Archdiocese of Miami.