Monday, November 29, 2004


Former hostage rekindles dream of finding treasure


Chicago Sun-Times
By Jan Dennis
November 28, 2004

MORTON, Ill. -- The last time Scott Heimdal set out in search of sunken treasure he ended up being the bounty instead, kidnapped and held for ransom in the jungles of South America for two months, not knowing whether he would live or die.

Now, nearly 15 years after his central Illinois hometown raised the cash that bought his freedom, Heimdal is preparing to head back to Ecuador to resume a treasure-hunting dream that still burns hotter than his memories of 61 days at the mercy of Colombian rebels.

The 42-year-old former hostage says this trip will be much safer. Instead of guerrillas, his biggest worry will be finding a Spanish galleon that sank off the coast of Ecuador in the late 1500s with a cargo he estimates could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

"I've always been someone who likes to see things through. If you decide to do something, do it,'' the Peoria native said with a laugh.

'Wrong place, wrong time'
Even his parents, who went to South America and negotiated their son's release in 1990, say they have no qualms about Heimdal rekindling a dream sparked by a documentary on shipwreck recoveries he saw as a teenager.
"What happened to him when he got kidnapped was just that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,'' said his father, Roy Heimdal.

At the time, though, he had feared his son would never be released by the rebels alive.

"It was awful, I almost lost my mind,'' he recalled.

Heimdal wound up within the rebels' reach after signing on with a mining company to support himself when the Ecuadorean government thwarted his bid for a permit to salvage a potential shipwreck he had spent years researching.

He was working on a gold mine being established deep in the jungle when rebels crossed over from Colombia and ambushed Heimdal's canoe from a riverbank. They killed his native navigator and abducted Heimdal, seeking ransom money to finance their efforts to overthrow Colombia's government.

Heimdal's captivity made international news as rebels demanded $1.5 million for his release, unaware the gold mine was not yet operating. They ultimately settled for $60,000, a deal negotiated by Heimdal's mother, Marge, using money from fund-raisers across central Illinois. More than 50 members of the insurgent group have since been arrested, though none has gone to trial.

Other rebel groups are still carrying on the insurgency, but Heimdal said he will be out of harm's way on this trip. He's working with the Ecuadorean navy on the project, operating under a deal based on a new Ecuadorean law to evenly split any coins, jewelry or artifacts that might be found on the ocean floor.

"It's like anywhere; it really depends on where you are. If you're out in the middle of the jungle and you're close to the Colombian border, you need to be careful. The rest of the country, it's a wonderful country,'' he said. AP

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