As Bair Tsyrenov slowly guided his Mir submersible up an underwater slope, a shimmer of gold was caught in the vehicle's headlights, 400 meters (1,300 feet) below the surface of Lake Baikal. First the ship's three-man crew discovered "steel girders that looked like railway bridges." Then they struck upon the "bars with a particular golden radiance," Tsyrenov, a researcher from the Lake Baikal Protection Fund, reports.
The find, made by researchers at the beginning of this week, was a spectacular one. For the last two years, the two Mir submersible research vehicles, usually at work in the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean, have been operating in Siberia's Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater body. These are the same two mini-submarines that brought the world the first underwater images of the Titanic.
The Mir expedition to Lake Baikal was actually supposed to be finishing up around now. But the vessels are currently hot on the trail of a legend: the last czars' hoard of gold, which has been missing for 90 years and which, according to legend, lies in the depths of the Siberian lake.
Moving Millions Worth of Gold
Russian experts and journalists believe that the recent finds might be part of the gold taken by Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, which has been missing since the chaos of Russia's civil war. During a major offensive in 1919, Kolchak led the "White Guards" under his command over the Ural Mountains. Kolchak and his forces drove the Bolsheviks out of Kazan, a city east of Moscow, and took control of a major part of Russia's gold reserves.
Fearing that German troops might get their hands on it during World War I, Czar Nicholas II had had 500 tons of gold transported from St. Petersburg to Kazan. The gold, worth about 650 million rubles, reportedly filled 5,000 crates and 1,700 sacks; the "Whites" required 40 railway cars for the journey.
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