Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Did 2 French Aviators Reach North America by Plane in 1927, a Few Days Before Lindbergh Landed in Paris?

Two French aviators had done it, it seemed
writes Scott Sayare in the New York Times
— accomplished the first, near-unthinkable flight between Paris and New York, and on May 10, 1927, newspapers across France proclaimed “the triumph of French wings” and a “golden age of French aviation.”

“Nungesser and Coli have succeeded,” declared La Presse, going so far as to detail their sea landing in New York Harbor and the “cheers that rose up from the ships that surrounded them.”
Those heady first reports proved false. Charles Nungesser, a daredevil aristocrat and top French flying ace, and François Coli, a one-eyed mariner and former infantryman, had not arrived in New York. Their hulking single-engine biplane, L’Oiseau Blanc, or The White Bird, was never recovered. 

They had vanished “like midnight ghosts,” wrote Charles Lindbergh, the American who only days later reached Paris from New York. The Frenchmen were thought to have gone down in the English Channel, or perhaps over the Atlantic, or somewhere between Newfoundland and Maine.
Their disappearance, considered one of aviation’s great mysteries, has inspired decades of hypothesizing. 

A growing body of evidence, however, suggests that the aviators crashed off the tiny St.-Pierre, a craggy outcrop of lichenous rock and boxy, brightly colored houses about 10 miles from Newfoundland. It is a theory championed by Bernard Decré, an obsessive and excitable French septuagenarian who has committed the past five years to a full-time search for L’Oiseau Blanc.