SS Central America
Probability Distribution Development
In 1857, while carrying passengers and gold from California to New York, the SS Central America sank in a hurricane, taking gold bars and coins worth an estimated $400 million to the ocean bottom almost 8,000 feet below. Some 425 people, including the captain, lost their lives. In 1989, after three summers of effort at sea, the Columbus America Discovery Group recovered one ton of gold bars and coins from the wreck. In the summer of 1985, Metron was given the task of developing a probability distribution for the location of the SS Central America from historical information provided by Columbus America Discovery Group. The resulting distribution was used to design an efficient search plan designed to produce a high probability of finding the target. It provided specific directions for performing a search and served as a basis for estimating the amount of time, effort, and money necessary to assure a high probability of success.
The search began with a sonar survey in June 1986. The survey took 40 days, covered approximately 1,400 square miles of ocean floor, and produced a number of interesting contacts. The Columbus America Discovery Group investigated these contacts and found that the one located near the edge of the probability distribution was the wreck of the SS Central America. Gold coins and bars were recovered from the wreck.
In October 1989, this gold was handed over to the custody of the Federal courts in Norfolk, Virginia, in a ceremony that received nationwide television coverage. In 1995, the Federal courts awarded the Columbus America Discovery Group 90 percent of the gold coins and bars salvaged from the wreck.