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Copyright © 1987 The Times Mirror Company

Los Angeles Times

June 15, 1987, Monday, Home Edition

SECTION: Part 1; Page 4; Column 1; National Desk

LENGTH: 288 words




   A team of treasure hunters embarked Sunday on "the chance of a lifetime" to salvage what they believe are gold coins worth as much as $1.6 billion from the wreckage of a luxury liner that sank in 1909.

"This is the one I've been after for years," said William Flower, leading a team of divers who will search the remains of the Republic on the floor of the Atlantic about 55 miles south of Nantucket, Mass.

The Republic, a 585-foot luxury liner owned by banker J. P. Morgan's White Star Shipping Co., was the largest vessel ever to go down at sea before the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, said Dr. Robert Polackwich, chairman of Sub-Ocean Salvors International, which is running the salvage mission.

A team of 20 divers and 22 crew members left New York Harbor on the salvage vessel Inspector and were expected to arrive at the site of the sunken Republic later this week.

"This is the chance of a lifetime," said Martin Bayerle, 36, a professional diver who found and identified the wreck in 1981. Bayerle and Polackwich, a cancer specialist from Tampa, Fla., are in charge of the $2-million salvage mission.

He said his research on the ship shows the Republic was carrying $3 million in U.S. gold coins purchased by the Bank of France. He estimated the current value of the coins at between $200 million and $1.6 billion.

The Republic, which was built in 1903, set sail from New York Jan. 22, 1909, carrying 484 passengers and 500 crew members. The next day, the luxury liner was struck in the middle of its left side by the Florida, an Italian ship carrying victims of a major earthquake in Italy to the United States.

Two passengers on the Republic and four crewmen on the Florida were killed in the collision.

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