Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, aviator, philosopher, poet and author, took off for the last time from Bastia in Corsica on July 31 1944. He and his plane disappeared without trace.
In September 1998, two small pieces of a wrecked aircraft were brought up in fishing nets in the Mediterranean near Marseilles, along with a bracelet (or wrist-watch - reports vary) engraved, "Saint-Ex".
In May 2000, after searching the surrounding area, diver Luc Vandell found part of the tail of a Lockheed P-38L Lightning, exactly the kind of plane Saint-Exupéry had been flying, less than a mile away on the sea bed at a depth of 130 feet. Vandell also found the remains of an unarmed German Messerschmitt plane nearby, raising the possibility that the two planes had collided.
An online report dated July 19 2000 from German magazine BZ, states, "It is Saint-Exupéry's machine", but does not, as far as I can see, offer any new evidence to support this statement. Nor does the report shed any new light on the cause of the crash, although it does mention French historian Philippe Castellano's assessment that had the plane been shot down by the Germans there would be some official record of it, and no such record exists. The usual suspects, oxygen deprivation and suicide, are once again named, as they often are in connection with this disappearance.
The BZ article, which included an underwater picture of Luc Vandell with a portion of the wreckage he found, is now gone.
UPDATE 8th April 2004
After the inital discoveries described above, further dives in the area were banned by the French Culture Ministry until October 2003, when an officially sanctioned diving team was finally allowed to explore the crash site. More parts of the wreckage were brought to the surface, at least one of which was marked with a serial number that matched that of Saint-Exupéry's plane. Patrick Granjean, head of the French Culture Ministry, has since remarked that no further evidence for the reason of the crash has been found, and I have so far been unable to find any further mention of the Messerschmitt which appeared in the initial 2000 reports.
Many thanks to Stavr0 for pointing out the article which formed the basis of this update.
- The BZ article reference above, at http://184.108.40.206/newsarchiv/bf20antoine.htm, now removed
- Guardian, May 12 2000
- Scotsman, May 29 2000
- http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2004/04/07/world/author_plane040407, April 7 2004