January 29, 2015

The S.S. Central America sank in 1857, along with about 42,000 pounds of gold.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fugitive Treasure Hunter Captured in Florida

Tommy Thompson to be tried next week for fraud

The U.S. Marshals Service arrested treasure hunter Tommy Thompson at a Florida Hilton on Tuesday, reviving a two-decade saga involving a search for what many have called “the greatest lost treasure in American history,” a group of angry investors, and a two-year manhunt for Thompson.

In October 1989, a Thompson-led team recovered an estimated $400 million worth of gold from the wreckage of the S.S. Central America, a steamer that sank in 1857 during a voyage from Panama to New York and took 42,000 pounds of gold with it. Thompson spent three years and $12.7 million of investors’ money executing the search, all the while racing competing treasure hunters.

Multiple parties sued Thompson after he recovered the treasure. Thirty-nine insurance companies claimed they’d insured the gold in 1857, two of Thompson’s 161 investors asked for their share (none have been paid yet), and nine members of Thompson’s crew sued in 2006. That year, Thompson moved into a Vero Beach mansion, paying all of his bills in cash. When he failed to appear at a court hearing in 2012, a judge issued a warrant for his arrest.

Thompson would remain on the lam for two years. Federal agents nearly tracked him down in 2012, arriving at an abandoned mansion, where they found $10,000 in cash, disposable cellphones, and a book called How to Live Your Life Invisible. “Thompson was one of the most intelligent fugitives ever sought by the U.S. Marshals,” Peter Tobin of the U.S. Marshal Service told the AP. “And he had vast financial resources at his disposal.”

Thompson, now 62, was scheduled to appear in a West Palm Beach court on Thursday, but a federal judge delayed his hearing to February 4 so Thompson could find a lawyer, the Palm Beach Post reports. He is scheduled to return soon to his home state of Ohio to face federal charges, but he has complained of health issues from encephalitis and hopes to remain in Florida, the Post reports.

A June 1998 article in Outside relays the details of Thompson’s treasure hunt.


Will Gadd ice climbs the first ascent of Niagara Falls on January 27.     Photo: Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool

WATCH: Will Gadd Ice Climbs Niagara Falls

Canadian claims another feat

Canadian professional ice climber Will Gadd has made history by being the first person to scale Niagara Falls. Gadd climbed the northernmost part of Horseshoe Falls on January 27, according to a Red Bull press release.

“I’ve traveled the world in search of the most challenging climbs, but Niagara Falls, one of my home country’s most iconic landmarks, has been a lifelong mission that I previously never thought possible,” Gadd said in the release.

Gadd began at the frozen river base of Niagara River and scaled to Terrapin Point on Goat Island, ascending 140 feet of ice that ranged in thickness from one inch to 10 feet.

“The massive water flow constantly shakes the ground and makes the ice shelves and walls around you unsteady and unpredictable,” Gadd said in the release. “It’s a harsh environment and an intense challenge to stay attached to the wall let alone climb it.”

Most recently, Gadd won the elite mixed climbing competition at the Ouray Ice Festival earlier this month in Colorado. He also holds three X Games gold medals for ice climbing and is a former world record-holder for paragliding distance.


The Sierra Nevada red fox, captured by a motion-sensitive camera set up in Yosemite National Park.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Rare Red Fox Sighted in Yosemite

First at the park in almost a century

On Wednesday, Yosemite National Park directors announced the sighting of a rare Sierra Nevada red fox—the first confirmed sighting in the park in nearly 100 years. Following a five-day backcountry trip, wildlife biologists working for Yosemite documented two separate sightings of the fox using previously installed cameras fixed with special devices designed to extract hair samples from the animals. Both sightings took place within the past eight weeks—December 13 and January 4.

“We are thrilled to hear about the sighting of the Sierra Nevada red fox, one of the most rare and elusive animals in the Sierra Nevada,” Don Neubacher, Yosemite National Park superintendent, said in a press release. “National parks like Yosemite provide habitat for all wildlife and it is encouraging to see that the red fox was sighted in the park.”

The Sierra Nevada red fox of California is considered one of the rarest mammals on the continent; fewer than 50 exist. Verifiable sightings are reported a few times per decade. The nearest Sierra Nevada red fox sighting in recent memory was in the Sonora Pass area, north of the park. Wildlife biologists hope to determine whether the recently sighted foxes are related to these based on the hair samples they collected.

In 2010, Forest Service biologists attached a bag of chicken scraps to a trail camera near Sonora Pass. After seeing an animal bite the bag in the resulting pictures, they turned the bag over to wildlife geneticists at UC Davis. According to a statement released by the university, traces of saliva confirmed that the animal was indeed a Sierra Nevada red fox. The National Park Service stated that the last verified sighting in the region, prior to 2010, was two decades ago.


Shell is particularly interested in a prospect in the Chukchi Sea.     Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr

Shell to Drill in Alaskan Arctic

Following litigation and mishaps

Shell announced Thursday that it plans to drill offshore in the Chukchi Sea, between Alaska and Siberia, thereby putting to use billions of dollars worth of leases after years of problems and uncertainty, according to the Alaska Dispatch News. The project will cost the Dutch oil giant nearly a billion dollars, mostly in various permits and the costs of keeping a fleet in such a remote location. Shell bought the Chukchi leases in 2008 but has yet to drill.

The decision comes on the heels of a string of setbacks for Shell and oil production in Alaska: Global oil prices are plunging, drilling contractor Noble Drilling was found guilty of committing various environmental and safety violations last year, and Shell’s Kulluk drill rig ran aground last year. At this point in 2014, Shell had abandoned its six-year effort to drill in the Chukchi region and remained uncertain about pursuing oil there even last month. Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told the Alaska Dispatch News that to make drilling profitable, Shell will have to make a major discovery or oil prices will have to change.

Shell’s Arctic endeavors come at a contentious time for energy development in the region, with the Obama administration recently protecting parts of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and now making additional areas of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off-limits to drilling. Alaska leaders have been critical of Obama’s efforts to seek what his administration call a “balanced” energy production policy in the state—particularly of his decision to ban oil and gas drilling in Bristol Bay.

“It’s a one-two-three kick to the gut of Alaska’s economy,” Senator Lisa Murkowski told the Alaska Dispatch News.

The Department of the Interior recently released a draft of its five-year program for offshore oil and gas leasing. It plans to make available nearly 80 percent of estimated oil resources in the region, but none in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas areas, which were already off-limits under previous leasing plans. Shell’s lease is situated just outside the protected zone.


No surprises here—Lindsey Vonn is one of the athletes headlining the roster.     Photo: Erich Spiess/ASP/Red Bull

U.S. Roster Set for Ski World Champs

Includes Vonn, Shiffrin, Ligitey, Miller

The U.S. Ski Team’s 26-athlete roster has been set for the next two weeks’ alpine skiing world championships, according to the Denver Post.

The roster isn’t surprising. It includes Lindsey Vonn, fresh off her 64th World Cup victory, as well as reigning Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin and Olympic gold medalists Ted Ligety and Bode Miller.

Being named to the squad is no guarantee that an athlete will get to race. Coaches can pick only four racers for a given event. Skiers who have had World Cup success so far this season, like Vonn and Shiffrin, can expect to compete.

But Bode Miller, who has not competed this season after having back surgery in November, is a wild card. “He’s just got to see how the whole thing shakes out, how he’s feeling day by day. Then we’ll make a call where and if we’re going to put him into the race,” U.S Ski Team alpine director Patrick Riml told the Denver Post.

This is the first time the world championships, which are being held at Vail and Beaver Creek, have been held in the United States since 1999.