The mistery of ‘The White Bird’

On May 20th, 1927, Charles Lindbergh wrote his name in History after being the first man crossing the Atlantic in a solo, non-scale, flight, from New York to Paris, on a monoplane called The Spirit of St. Louis.

On May 8th, 1927, twelve days before Lindbergh epic deed, two men tried to write their own names in History, and somehow they suceeded, but not as they intended. Charles Nungesser and François Coli took off from Paris on a biplane called L’Oiseau Blanc, with the intention of flying, non-stop, to New York. The stablished route was a big arc over the English Channel, the Southwest of England and Ireland, across the Atlantic to Newfoundland, and once there turning down over Nova Scotia to Boston and, from there, to New York, where they would make a water landing in front of the Statue of Liberty and would be received with a great celebration.

L’Oiseau Blanc was seen over Étretat, still in France, and there exist reports of witnesses in Carrigaholt (Ireland). But the waiting crowd in New York never saw it arriving, although some French newspapers, like La Presse, published reports about it.

Monument to Nungesser and Coli's flight, on Étretat, from where they were last seen in France.

Monument to Nungesser and Coli's flight, on Étretat, from where they were last seen in France.

The biplane was carrying fuel for a 42 hours flight: when that time was over, and still without news of Nungesser and Coli, an international search was launched over the territories between New York and Newfoundland.

Public opinion considered that the Oiseau Blanc crashed over the Atlantic due to a squall. However, some witnesses afirmed that they had heard the biplane on Newfoundland and Maine. Rumours spread for years. In 1930 some pieces that were believed to be the engine were found, but it couldn’t be proved. The interest about the Oiseau Blanc was revived during the 80’s , due to an article about the mistery by Gunnar Hansen. In 1984, an official investigation by French government stablished that the two aviators might have reached Newfoundland, and in 1989 the NBC series “Unsolved misteries” dictamined that both had died in a crash in the woods of Maine. Some wreckage found supported the theory that the Oiseau Blanc had reached the continent, but it could never be proved.

Until today, there’s no trace of Charles Nungesser, Françoise Coli or the “white bird”.

The Oiseau Blanc’s disappearance has been considered the biggest mistery in modern aviation history and its impact might have been very important: had it succeeded in its journey, it’s very possible that Lindbergh wouldn’t have made his historic flight twelve days later. His success was a publicity hit for the States’s aeronautic industry, without which the military and technological development of the United States may have been very different.

There’s a memorial at Le Bourget airport, honoring Lindbergh, Nungesser and Coli, inscribed: “A ceux qui tentérent et celui qui acomplit” (“To those who tried and who suceeded”)



Un pensamiento en “The mistery of ‘The White Bird’

  1. An interesting article thank you. We recently visited the memorial Nungesser and Coli at Etretat, Normandy – some pictures here
    It’s a stunning memorial at the place Nungesser and Coli last saw France.
    Also posted is an old image of the original memorial blown up by the Germans in WW2. Memorial styles certainly change!
    We are glad Nungesser and Coli and their bravery are not forgotten.


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