The search for the White Bird
The two French pilots, Charles Nungesser and his co-pilot François Coli, took off for New York from Le Bourget in the early hours of May 8, 1927, i.e. two weeks before Lindbergh's successful non-stop crossing. Since Nungesser and Coli never reached their destination and no trace was found of their plane, the attempt has always been considered a failure.
Two men, advertising executive Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet and journalist Marcel Julian, were the first to consider an alternative hypothesis: Nungesser and Coli's plane – the White Bird – did indeed find its way across the Atlantic, but crashed into the sea before reaching New York.
Bernard Decré, creator of the Tour de France à la Voile yacht race and an aviation enthusiast, has developed an obsession with solving this mystery. He has been carrying out in-depth research for six years. "I have already gathered approximately thirty pieces of corroborating evidence which suggest that the White Bird did indeed cross the Atlantic", he stated. "Firstly, a statement by the fisherman Pierre-Marie le Chevalier, who was sailing in the area on the morning of May 9, 1927 and reported hearing very clearly the sound of a plane and a crash followed by shouts. Another piece of evidence is a telegram from US coastguards dated August 18, 1927, in which they report to their superiors that two connected wings have been found 300 km from New York and 800 km from Saint Pierre and Miquelon, clearly stating the possibility that these could be the wings from the French aircraft!"
The search for the missing engine
However, in order to prove beyond all shadow of doubt that the two French pilots did actually cross the Atlantic, physical proof is required in the form of the recovery of a piece of the wreckage. In this case, it must be the engine, as it is the only component which could have survived for this length of time underwater. It was built by Lorraine–Dietrich, a company which was taken over in 1941 by the engine manufacturer Société des moteurs Gnome et Rhône. This company was nationalised in 1945 forming Snecma (Société Nationale d'Etude et de Construction de Moteurs d'Aviation), which became the Safran group in 2005.
A crucial operation
The area where Pierre-Marie Le Chevalier was located on the morning of 9 May has already been explored three times without success, but the search will resume in the spring with a three-week operation off the coast of Saint Pierre and Miquelon. "Our mission is to build for the future rather than to take part in the search for the past, but you can only face the future with confidence if you are proud of your history", said Jean-Paul Herteman, Chairman and CEO of Safran, recalling the reasons behind Safran's support for this project. Bernard Decré pointed out: "In addition to the financial support, we are trying to assess the extent to which Safran's technological expertise could also play a role in recovering the White Bird's engine".
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