Real Names: Charles Eugene Jules Marie Nungesser and Francois Coli
Case: Disappearance/Unsolved History
Date: May 8, 1927
Location: Paris, France to New York City, New York
Details: Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli were two trained WWI pilots who designed and built the L'Oiseau Blanc (French for The White Bird), a Levasseur PL.8 bi-plane based on a PL.4 reconnaissance aircraft, built for a flight from Paris to New York City in one of the earliest pre-Lindbergh trans-Atlantic flights. On May 8, 1927, they departed from Le Bourget Field in Paris across the English Channel, over the southwestern part of England and Ireland and then across the Atlantic for a water landing in New York. They were sighted over the French coast, over Carigaholt, Ireland and then for the last time off the Irish coast by a British naval officer. Despite false reports of their arrival in America by French newspapers, the plane and pilots were never seen again.
Two weeks later on May 21, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly across the Atlantic non-stop from New York to Paris. As a result, the story of the missing pilots faded from public memory. For decades, it was assumed that the plane had crashed at sea. Fifty years later, however, in 1971, hunter Jim Reed was deep in the Maine woods when he found a moss-covered aircraft engine. Since he was an auto mechanic, he was certain that the engine was not from an automobile; he believed that it came from an aircraft. However, despite several attempts, Jim was unable to re-trace his steps, and the engine was never found again.
Since 1985, aircraft researcher Rick Gillespie and his wife Pat Thrasher have been searching for the missing plane. They are convinced that the plane did, indeed, make its way across the Atlantic before crashing near Machias, Maine. The couple used a helicopter equipped with an infrared scanner to search the area where Jim believed he had found the engine. However, no trace of it was found.
The Gillespies then focused their efforts on questioning long-term Maine residents who were alive in 1927. A retired blueberry farmer, Harold Vining, had lived in the area for seventy-seven years. He is one of the last people still alive who claims to have heard the plane as it flew over Maine before crashing. Harold claims that on May 9, 1927, he was outside chopping wood when he heard a plane flying over him. He knew it was not Charles Lindbergh's plane because it was flying in the wrong direction and the date did not match the time Lindbergh was supposed to leave.
Three miles away, a young couple named Everett and Abigail Scott were driving home when they heard a plane flying above them; they stopped their car to listen. Two miles away, Mary Gould was in her kitchen when she, too, heard the plane. Anson Berry was fishing that day when he also heard a plane flying over. He then heard the plane's engine stop. Finally, he heard the sound of the plane crashing, although he was unable to locate the crash site. According to Anson's cousin Maurice, it was very foggy that day, so it was impossible for any of the witnesses to actually see the plane. Along with these witnesses, there were also people in Nova Scotia who believed that they had heard and even seen the plane flying above that day.
In 1985, the Gillespies and their team searched the area where Anson Berry believed the plane had crashed. While there, they found a unique piece of wood that was used for padding purposes. According to Rick, the piece of wood was not manufactured in North America. Eventually, the team found twenty-three more fragments of the same strip. Together, they formed the length of two meters; this is the exact width of the missing plane's wing.
To this day, the Gillespies and their team are still searching for the remains of the White Bird.
Extra Notes: This segment was featured on the May 3, 1989 episode of Unsolved Mysteries. Nungesser and Coli were referenced in the movie, Restless Spirits.
Results: Unsolved. Eyewitness Harold Vining passed away in 1990. A French analysis theorizes that the pilots ran out of fuel and were forced to crash the plane, proving that they had crossed the Atlantic between May 8 and May 9, 1927. Researchers have revealed that during a three month span thirty ships were ordered to search for pieces of the wreck, floating between Boston and Saint Pierre, and suspected pieces were found. New archives are being formed to confirming this hypothesis with the help of Erik Lindbergh and William Nungesser, two important supporters.
Recently, Gillespie has changed his theory about the plane; he now believes that it crash-landed somewhere in Newfoundland. Several witnesses reported seeing a plane flying in the area at the time. According to Gillespie, the sightings corresponded with the plane's flight path. In a pond in Newfoundland, he located a piece of metal that matched the color of the plane. However, it could not be positively identified as coming from the plane.
- The White Bird on Wikipedia
- Charles Nungesser and François Coli on Wikipedia
- L'Oiseau Blanc blog
- Post on the last flight with recent photos of the Etretat memorial
- White Bird hunt resumes with new evidence
- A Framgment of History is Uncovered in Maine
- Searchers seek French biplane missing since 1927
- Searchers find more evidence of plane crash
- Resuming the Search for a Pioneering Plane Off a Remote Island
- Mystery of White Bird's flight still unsolved
- Two French aviators vanished a decade before Amelia Earhart. Their fate remains a mystery, too.
- Has the Missing Plane L'Oiseau Blan, the White Bird, Been Found?
- French aviators credited with transatlantic flight
- The Mysterious Disappearance of L’Oiseau Blanc
- Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli at Find a Grave