The site of a plane crash that killed a legendary French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery was finally located, said French sources last Wednesday. The novelist’s plane went missing on July 31, 1944. The French say that the wreckage of his plane are resting at the bottom of the Mediterranean in the vicinity of the city of Marseilles. The site was discovered by Jean-Claude Bianco, a fisherman, who found a bracelet amid the catch one day. A closer examination of the bracelet revealed a few engravings on it. They included the writer’s name, his wife’s name and a postal address of his American publisher which put out Le Petit Prince, an allegorical fantasy written in 1943. Yesterday, speaking to Izvestia, the French fisherman said he could have thrown overboard a piece of old metal that came with the net.
I read “The Little Prince” after I’d found the bracelet
“I’ll never forget that day. It happened on the 7th of September of 1998. We were out at sea onboard the Horizon. That’s the name of my ship. She’s a pretty big one ”, said Jean-Claude Bianco in an interview to Izvestia. “Shortly before noon we hove a trawl net with a catch. My seamen began to sort out the fishes. One of the fishes seemed really strange and I told a seaman to throw it overboard. He untangled the fish from the net and grabbed it along with a tuff of seaweed. I said to him: ‘What are you waiting for? Throw it away!’ And he goes: ‘Hold it, there’s something in the seaweed.’ So we began running our hands through the mess. We found a chain of bracelet. It looked really dirty, slime and ooze everywhere. But there was some engraving that can be seen even through the slime on a metal plate.”
“We gave the bracelet a good rinse. Eventually, we could make out the words engraved. They read: ‘Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Consuelo) c/o Reynal and Hitchcock Inc. 386 4th Ave. N. Y. City USA’. I found out later that ‘Consuelo’ refers to de Saint-Exupery’s wife and the address refers to the writer’s publisher based in the U.S.A. The one that published ‘The Little Prince’. That’s when I realized what a wonderful find I came across. I surely kept the bracelet though I couldn’t figure out how on earth it got into the sea near Marseilles.”
“Later on I was told by Luke Vanrel, a professional diver, about the wreckage of a plane he’d seen at the sea bed, he doesn’t believe it was one of the German aircraft that litter the sea bed in our area. His old theory claimed that the plane might have been the one flown by de Saint-Exupery on his last flight. The bracelet that I found proved his guesswork. He reported to the authorities on that plane sitting underwater and the bracelet that I found. His report prompted a research operation. In 2003, they located and brought up some of the wreckage found by Vanrel, as far as I know. Since I found that chain or bracelet, if you will, they kept me posted. They called me when they brought the debris ashore. I saw it.”
The fisherman admits that he decided to read “The Little Prince” after finding the bracelet.
“I heard the name before,” says he. “I’ve read a few books on his life. But it was the bracelet that made me pick up “The Little Prince” and read it from cover to cover.
I felt really weird at the beginning as I was reading the first pages. I was reading the book by the famous de Saint-Exupery whose personal bracelet I’d found some time ago. I felt glad afterwards. I remember thinking that the writer might be giving a sign to the people using me.”
“I had tears in my eyes despite being underwater”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery got his plane off the ground in Corsica on July 31, 1944, at about 08:30. He was bound for Provence, France. It was a reconnaissance flight. He was supposed to photograph an area in the Alps, between Grenoble and Lyons. The reconnaissance aircraft P-38 went off the radar screens of the U.S. Air Force as it approached the town of Saint Rafael, on the Mediterranean coast.
Many a researcher had been trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Antoine de Saint Exupery ever since but to no avail. For many years one of the main versions of events said that the plane went down in the Alps. Only the find discovered by chance by Bianco the fisherman switched the operations toward the sea. Luke Vanrel, the diver mentioned above, put forth the same version. In May of 2000, he said that he’d discovered the wreckage of an aircraft that might have belonged to de Saint-Exupery.
It was sitting 70 m under the sea surface. The wreckage was scattered around the area that was reported to be 1 km long and 400 m wide.
The French government soon imposed a ban on any search operations in the area. The ban was lifted only in the fall of 2003. Parts of the wreckage was raised from the sea and brought to the shore. One of the parts recovered was a piece of a cockpit with a serial hull number on it. It read: 2734-L. Scientists looked up the number in the U.S. Air Force archives among the thousands of aircraft reported missing in action in WW II. They found out that the above hull number corresponded to the U.S. Air Force aircraft that bore the number 42-68223 i.e. Lockheed Lightning P-38. It was operated by the “father” of “The Little Prince”.
“I’ve been examining the wreckage of that Lockheed P-38 since 1997. I studied all the pieces. The number has been found just recently,” said Pierre Becker, president of Geocean, a company that conducted undersea research operations. “We were so lucky to have found it. To me the plane has always had a special value. I’ve been in love with de Saint-Exupery’s books since I was a child. I read all his books. They opened up lots of things to me. So you can imagine the way I felt when I saw that number. I had tears in my eyes despite being 70 m deep in the water. I felt so excited that I could finally tell the people about the discovery of the aircraft used by the writer on his last flight. Unfortunately, the circumstances of an air crash dated July 31, 1944, still remain unknown.
The wreckage that we recovered didn’t have any bullet holes or other damage due to enemy fire. No data referring to any air combat or antiaircraft activity in the area were found in the archives. The plane may have fallen due to some sort of an engine failure. It went down into the water flying almost vertically at a very high speed, that’s one thing we know of. The plane exploded on impact with the sea. It was smashed to smithereens scattering around the sea bed far and wide. We can be sure that the pilot got instantly killed. Not a single shred of human remains was found. The silver bracelet found by the fisherman is the only personal effect of the writer which survived the crash. It got scooped up from the bottom near the site of the crash. It was yet another piece of indirect evidence that de Saint-Exupery piloted the plane. But we really needed a hull number to build a link between the plane and the bracelet. Now we’ve got it.”
The relatives of the writer now keep the bracelet. Jean-Claud Bianco hopes that his find will be handed to a museum in the near future.
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