Sanford family's $500K treasure find could be from Spanish fleet sunk in 1715

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SANFORD, Fla. - A treasure-hunting Sanford family is celebrating its largest find ever Tuesday afternoon.

Rick Schmitt's family uncovered what could be more than $500,000 worth of gold chains and coins off the coast of Fort Pierce over the weekend.

The loot likely came from a fleet of Spanish ships struck by a strong hurricane in 1715, officials said.

The findings will be divided between the state, museums and Schmitt's family.

Treasure divers have been in the family for decades. They've found a lot of aluminum cans but never would've expected to find a half million dollars worth of treasure in the water.

Dale Zeak and his diving partners have combed the coast of Fort Pierce for years searching for treasure.

This weekend, they found every diver's fantasy.

"Our boat has been across this wreck site 1,000 times," Zeak said.

The Sanford-based company Booty Salvage found almost 5 pounds of gold on the ocean floor that has been valued at $500,0000.

Zeak said the treasure looked as bright and shiny as the day it went in.

"We get to hold on to it for a little while but then it all gets turned in," Zeak said.

The state carefully documents each artifact, which can take months.

"The state comes in and says, 'OK, this is what we're taking,'" Zeak said.

Florida gets 20 percent of whatever companies like Booty Salvage finds.

A company called Queen's Jewels leases 20 miles of Florida's coast where 11 Spanish ships are believed to have ship wrecked in the 1700s.

Zeak's company contracts with them to dive the wreckage and search for treasure. Queen's Jewels gets 40 percent of finds and Zeak and his partners get the other 40 percent.

If the state wants to keep more than 20 percent for archeological purposes, the divers can still get their cut through a point system.

"So they could trade in those points in for coins or whatever they want from the museum," Zeak said.

As for the cans, they say they throw them away where they belong so they get to help the environment while finding gold.