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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 April, 2004, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
French find Saint-Exupery's plane
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
St-Exupery was an experienced pilot
A French underwater salvage team has discovered the remains of the plane piloted by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 60 years after he disappeared.

The author of The Little Prince vanished on a wartime reconnaissance mission over southern France.

Pieces of his aircraft were located in the Mediterranean sea off the coast of Marseille, the culture ministry said.

St-Exupery is seen by some in France as a national hero, and there had been much speculation about his fate.

A respected author and aviation pioneer, he came to international prominence after the publication of The Little Prince, which he also illustrated.

The fantastical tale of a small boy's experiences as he travels through the universe was written in French in 1942-43, and published in English and French in 1943.

It has since been translated into more than 100 languages.

The author was 44 when he died in 1944.

Unresolved mystery

There had been clues to the whereabouts of his plane.

In 1998, a fisherman found a bracelet engraved with the name of St-Exupery's wife, entwined with seaweed and a fragment of a flying suit, off the coast of Marseille.

In 2000, a diver found the remains of a Lockheed Lighting P38 plane - the type of aircraft St-Exupery had been flying - in the same area.

The pieces were brought to the surface by a salvage team last year.

Researchers found the plane's serial number, which led them to confirm it was indeed the aircraft used by St-Exupery, although his body has not been found.

"I had tears in my eyes when I saw the number," Pierre Becker, head of one of the engineering firms involved, told AFP.

However, the mystery persists as to why St-Exupery's plane came down on a clear day after he had taken off from his base on the island of Corsica.

No bullet holes were found, nor was there evidence of a bent propeller, researchers said.

"We don't know why (it came down)," a spokesman for the culture ministry said.

"We probably never will."



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