South Florida

Test confirms mystery pendant likely from ValuJet crash

Mark Rubinstein holds  the pendant he found at the crash scene. The pendant is gold, with saphires  forming a cross inside a circle of diamonds. One edge is melted and misshapen.
Mark Rubinstein holds the pendant he found at the crash scene. The pendant is gold, with saphires forming a cross inside a circle of diamonds. One edge is melted and misshapen.
Lynne Sladky / AP

Was someone who died in the 1996 crash of ValuJet Flight 592 wearing a quarter-sized, Celtic-style religious pendant when the plane smashed into the Everglades?

Sophisticated metallurgic testing on the partly melted piece, which a snake hunter found in February, all but assures it, according to Stephen Walker of Walker Metalsmiths in Andover, N.Y., who has it for safekeeping.

“Lab tests show that melted-on contamination of the gold pendant...contains significant levels of titanium, chromium and iron,’’ Walker said in an email. “This would tend to support that the melting happened in a plane crash. Titanium especially is used in aviation.’’

The gold is “just over 20 karat,’’ said Walker, who makes Celtic jewelry. “The remainder is silver and gold, typical of modern jewelry alloys.’’

The bezel settings for seven small, rose-cut diamonds are platinum, he said, “which would tend to date the piece to 1880 to 1918.’’

The tiny sapphires in the cross are set directly into the gold, which “would explain why the diamonds are all still there and several of the sapphires are lost,’’ he said.

Among the first to learn the results: Gail Dunham, executive director of the National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation, who quickly sent emails to the 200 contacts in her Flight 592 database, mainly loved ones of the “110 souls’’ she said were lost.

“It’s very important that this personal effect is returned to the family members,’’ Dunham said. “They all know how important these [items] are...I’m optimistic we’ll find the right person.’’

Sites all over the world yield material from long-ago disasters, she said.

“The earth is very forgiving with personal items from crashes.’’

Eastern Flight 401 went down in the same general area in 1972, killing 99 people, but Dunham thinks that the pendant more likely came from a ValuJet passenger.

Walker, to whom python hunter Mark Rubinstein sent the piece, initially concluded it was at least 18-karat gold, and that the letters around the sapphire cross might be Greek or Old Church Slavonic.

He took it to a metallurgist at Alfred University’s materials science department, who did the analysis.

Robert Moorman at Carroll’s Jewelers in Fort Lauderdale also examined the piece, and told Rubinstein it was made sometime between the late-1700s and mid-1800s.

He identified one letter as an “M,” denoting the Virgin Mary.

“It’s not the type of jewelry you’d wear into the Everglades,’’ Dunham said.

Rubinstein, of Coral Springs, couldn’t be reached Friday. He has described seeing something sparkle in the dirt that February day he was python hunting.

He’s determined to reunite the keepsake with someone close to the person who lost it.

“It didn’t belong to the swamp and it doesn’t belong to me,” Rubinstein has said.

Denham asks that anyone with information about the pendant go to, or email

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