It was apparently overcast on May 8th, 1927, when the two French pilots aboard the “White Bird” disappeared somewhere off the U.S. coast near Maine. Or so its said. They’ve never been found but the story is important. That’s because back home this week, France announced that the two were actually the first to cross the Atlantic – not Charles Lindbergh. His surname could translate from German as “balmy mountain”. The French for White Bird is L’Oiseau Blanc, but I digress.
The aviators concerned were trying to capture the Orteig prize of $25,000 which as we all know, was and is, a fortune. If you’re earning rands in particular.
Unlike Lindbergh, the White Bird had two aviators so Charles’ solo flight stands. But what happened to François Coli who and Paul Tarascon, both WWI veterans?
The White Bird weighed 11,000 pounds of 5,000kg and was bedecked with a black skull and crossbones with a coffin and two candles inside a black heart. That was chillingly apt by the end of the doomed flight. It was painted white so it would supposedly be easy to spot when/if it came down.
Both clambered aboard their new Levasseur PL8 biplane around 5am on May 8th 1927. The aircraft had been redesigned to cope with the stresses of flying across the Atlantic in summer, with the expected thunderstorms and high winds at times. The redesign included an undercarriage that would be jettisoned on take-off which would reduce the overall weight, endurance of 7,000km and 4,000 litres of fuel.
The trans-Atlantic flight was supposed to be between New York and Paris and the winner had to ensure that they connected these two cities. But there’s a lot of debate about whether they made it as far as the Maine coast. In fact witnesses eastern Canada on the morning of May 9th described hearing a plane overhead and investigators today believe that its possible that’s where the White Bird ended up.
At least 12 different witnesses said they’d heard or seen the plane on the 9th May. But no sign of this aircraft has ever been found, in spite of at least one case of an obsessive who’s spent 30 years searching for the White Bird who believes it is submerged in one of the thousands of ponds in Newfoundland.
This mystery is a bit like MH370, with the aviators in the White Bird leaving their radio behind because it was too heavy. In MH370s case, someone switched off the radios. The plane also likely ditched in water because that’s the only place it could land, the aviators would not have tried to put the plane down on land because they would most likely not have survived. MH370 is thought to have ended up in the Indian Ocean.
In 1984, France concluded the aircraft HAD in fact reached Newfoundland, but said they believed the plane came down in one of the forests. We’re all guessing, of course.
Its an enigmatic tale. In 1992 bits of metal and pieces of struts were found in a Maine forest and the parts were described as similar to the build of the biplane. Engine metals were discovered near the town of Machias in Maine. Local residents described a large object which they called a really big motor that had been found in the woods and salvaged by loggers.
Still, Charles Lindbergh the balmy mountain remains the first person to have successfully flown solo across the Atlantic. He was paid the $25,000 and went on to have many more adventures as we know.
The two French WWI hero aviators, François Coli and Paul Tarascon, disappeared into that dark place in history where ghosts dwell.