Seabed discovery solves mystery of author's 'flight into unknown'

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The Independent Online

The mystery of the disappearance of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the French aviation pioneer and author, on a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean 60 years ago has been solved.

The mystery of the disappearance of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the French aviation pioneer and author, on a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean 60 years ago has been solved.

The wreckage of an American-made P-38 Lightning fighter, located on the seabed off Marseilles, has been identified as belonging to the plane that Saint-Exupéry was flying on 31 July 1944. The author of the Le Petit Prince, one of the bestselling books of all time, appears to have crashed vertically into the water, possibly shot down by German defenders of the French Mediterranean coast.

But one historian said yesterday that the pilot, 43, may have committed suicide.

Parts of a Lightning aircraft were discovered near Marseilles four years ago, two years after fishermen trawled up a bracelet apparently belonging to Saint-Exupéry in the same area. Permission was granted last year to raise parts of the aircraft, including a support girder, which was stamped with the number 2734L.

The Lockheed corporation in the US traced the part to the aircraft flown by Saint-Exupéry on a reconnaissance mission from Corsica in advance of the US invasion of southern France in August 1944. The condition of the wreckage of the aircraft is consistent with a vertical dive into the sea. Bernard Mark, an aviation historian, said he believed that Saint-Exupéry, who had been drinking all night before his flight and was known to be depressed, may have committed suicide or he may have been shot down by a German aircraft or anti-aircraft battery.

Saint-Exupéry enthusiasts may have mixed feelings about the partial solution to the mystery. The idea of him flying into the unknown has become part of the Saint-Exupéry myth, especially since the little prince himself vanishes at the end of his most famous book.

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