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Fri, Apr 09, 2004

Wreckage Found, Mystery Remains

Antoine De Saint-Exupery's P-38 Found In Mediterranean

The mystery surrounding the death of noted French author Antoine De Saint-Exupery has been solved -- almost exactly 60 years later.

Saint-Exupery, whose book, The Little Prince, is considered a classic of science fiction, was on a secret mission for the allies on July 31, 1944, when his P-38 Lightning (file photo, below) simply disappeared.

Searches of the French coastline turned up nothing. And so the mystery deepened, shrouded by water and the passing of time.

Then, in 1998, a French fishing boat hauled in a silver bracelet engraved with Saint-Exupery's name, that of his Argentine wife and his New York-based publisher, Reynal & Hitchcock.

Not long after that, French diver Luc Vanrell came upon an underwater wreck in the same general area, near the port city of Marseilles. They managed to salvage several pieces of the Lockheed fighter -- one of them engraved with an identifiable serial number. It turned out to be the left engine cowling and the number was traced to the aircraft last flown by Saint-Exupery.

"Tears came into my eyes when I saw the number," said Pierre Becker, the head of Geocean, an underwater engineering firm that helped find the wreckage. The P-38 was entangled with a German Messerschmitt ME-109, indicating there may have been a dogfight at the very end of the revered author's life. But no bulletholes were found in the aircraft.

Forty-four year old Antoine de Saint-Exupery went west 60 years ago, a journey only completed with the positive identification of his wrecked P-38. Happy landings, mon ami.

FMI: www.beyond.fr/villages/marseille.html

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