Lost photographs reveal St-Exupéry's final hours

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Unknown images of the writer and aviation pioneer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – probably taken just before his death – have surfaced in France.

The four photographs, taken by one of Saint-Exupéry's Free French airforce comrades, were probably taken at an air base in Corsica shortly before his last flight in July 1944. One shows a balding, middle-aged man sitting at a table smoking a cigarette. Another shows a man in sunglasses and a life-jacket standing beside a Jeep.

Saint-Exupéry wrote The Little Prince, a best-selling children's book and allegory on the human condition.

The images, preserved in a cardboard box for almost 70 years by the family of another French flyer, Raymond Duriez, have been donated to an aviation museum in Angers in western France. They have been positively identified by the writer's niece, Monique Catta.

François Blondeau, president of the association which runs the museum, said the pictures were "later than those taken in Corsica by [the photographer] John Phillips in May 1944", previously thought to be the last images of Saint-Exupéry.

On 31 July 1944, the 44-year-old pilot and writer – a pioneer of mail flights in Africa and Latin America – set out on a reconnaissance flight. He never returned. The wreckage of an aircraft believed to be his has been found off the coast near Toulon in recent years. A silver identity bracelet bearing his name was discovered by a fisherman in 1998.

Antoine Jean-Baptiste Marie Roger de Saint-Exupéry came from a noble family in Lyons. His best-known book, apart from The Little Prince, is Vol de Nuit, or Night Flight, based on his experiences as a pilot.