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‘Little Prince’ author's plane discovered

Antoine de Saint-Exupery disappeared during World War II while flying a reconnaissance mission for the Allies.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A French scuba team has discovered parts of the missing warplane piloted by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of “The Little Prince” and one of France’s most beloved writers, an Air Force official said Wednesday.

The French aviation hero disappeared during World War II while flying a reconnaissance mission for the Allies over the Mediterranean. Until now, nobody knew where the plane went down.

Two pieces — from the landing gear and engine — of Saint-Exupery’s Lockheed Lightning P-38 aircraft were pulled from the Mediterranean near the southern France city of Marseille, said Capt. Frederic Solano.

“Specialists have determined that it was the plane” flown by Saint-Exupery, Solano said.

Saint-Exupery’s last secret mission was to collect data on German troop movement in the Rhone River Valley, but his plane vanished in the night on July 31, 1944.

Repeated searches of the coast failed to find the plane, leaving the author’s disappearance shrouded in mystery.

But in 1998, a bracelet Saint-Exupery may have been wearing when his plane vanished was caught in a fisherman’s net in the Mediterranean.

The find jogged the memory of a local scuba diver, who remembered seeing the debris of a plane in the sandy ocean bed nearby.

Soon after, officials scouring pieces of the wrecked plane brought up for analysis found a serial number: 2734 L. Tests confirmed it was Saint-Exupery’s missing craft, he said.

“A mystery has been solved,” Vanrell said.

Still, a piece of the puzzle remains unanswered: What caused the crash? Theories have ranged from hostile gunfire to mechanical problems to suicide.

Saint-Exupery is one of France’s cherished authors, and “The Little Prince” — a tender fable about innocence — is one of the world’s best-known children’s tales. Saint-Exupery’s other works largely deal with his experiences in the early days of aviation, including “Wind, Sand and Stars” and “Flight to Arras.”

Until the euro currency was introduced in 2002, the novelist’s image appeared on the nation’s 50-franc note.