The mystery of Swissair Flight 111's diamond cargo

The cargo hold of the Swissair plane that crashed in 1998 was supposed to contain $500 million worth of diamonds and jewelry. The plane wreckage is filmed by divers off Peggys Cove, N.S., 18 days after the crash

By Daniel Schwartz - CBC News

Among the mysteries about the crash of Swissair Flight 111 off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1998 is what happened to diamonds, rubies, emeralds and other gems that were supposed to be in the cargo hold.

Today they would be worth half a billion dollars.

Very little is publicly known about the gems. Three days before the crash, a popular exhibition,The Nature of Diamonds, closed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. At least one piece from the exhibit was being shipped aboard the Swissair flight on Sept. 2.

Whoever had lent the item to the museum did not want any other information disclosed.

A total of one kilogram of diamonds and 4.8 kilograms of jewelry was being shipped on the plane. Jewelers regularly used the airline to transport gems.

The flight took off from JFK airport and then began to fly over the Atlantic Ocean, destined for Geneva, Switzerland, but a little less than an hour into the flight the crew noticed smoke and issued the international urgency signal "pan pan pan."

They were cleared to proceed to the airport in Halifax but crashed in the relatively shallow water off Peggys Cove, N.S. All 229 people aboard were killed.

98 per cent of plane recovered

The recovery effort, American Museum of Natural History in New York, retrieved 98 per cent of the aircraft and much of the 16 tons of cargo.

That effort included use of a suction-dredge vessel, which also retrieved rocks and other objects that had been at ocean bottom.

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New York Swissair Flight 111 Nova Scotia diamonds rubies emeralds American Museum of Natural History in New York American Museum of Natural History