When we last saw the 2009 search and salvage operation at Lake Toplitz, the crew was in bad shape. With time running out and a broken navigation system on the Phantom diving robot, all hope seemed lost of finding anything at the lake. However, the Phantom had stumbled on something promising before aborting its mission.
As a last ditch effort, the team launched a one-man submarine to investigate the last clue the Phantom saw before it began to malfunction. With the last of their remaining time to scour the lake, they recovered a large cube of paper – the crate that had housed it completely deteriorated away. But, that was all there was time for – the crew was due to leave as per their 30-day agreement with the Austrian government.
When it was recovered from the lake bottom, the paper cube had begun to rapidly disintegrate during the collection and ascent. Experts doubted that they could glean anything from the soggy mess. However, they worked hard to dry and restore what they had found to point where individual, intact, pieces could be separated from the mass that had sat at the bottom of a lake for more than 50 years. Upon examination, they were found to be highly realistic forgeries of British currency. Operation Bernhard was real, and the Nazis had indeed been hiding evidence at the bottom of Lake Toplitz. Surely, gold and other valuables are concealed by the lake.
However, it seems they will be destined to stay at the lake bottom. There is just no safe or reliable way to salvage it. Lake Toplitz is 2km long and more than 100m deep. A large team would be needed, but the Austrian government is not fond of granting permission for any salvage operations. The lake itself, while beautiful, is very forbidding under the surface. The water is freezing, there is no light or oxygen after 20m, and hundreds of fallen trees make many areas inaccessible to divers. On top of that, the gold itself poses problems. Because it is so heavy, it may have sunk into the silt at the bottom. Even if it were found, it may be extremely difficult to bring to the surface.
It seems that if there really is any Nazi gold at the bottom of Lake Toplitz, it’s going to be there for a long time.