7 April 2004
At night you will look up at the stars
In 1944, French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry took off from Corsica in a Lockheed Lightning P-38, to photograph southern France in anticipation of an Allied landing, and was never heard from again.
Not until 1998, when a fisherman off Marseilles turned up a bracelet inscribed with the names of Saint-Exupéry and his wife, was there any clue as to the fate of the author of The Little Prince. Two years later, a diver found some P-38 fragments; the French Ministry of Culture organized a salvage team last year, and a plate with the plane's serial number has now been found, verifying that this is indeed where Saint-Exupéry went down, though no trace of his body has yet been located.
Still unexplained is what caused the plane to crash in the first place; there was no evidence that the plane had been shot down or otherwise damaged in flight. And it still perhaps stings that Saint-Exupéry's narrator in The Little Prince, published the year before his deadly mission, was a downed pilot.
Posted at 2:25 PM to Almost Yogurt
Well, after a half decade, the plane was in hundreds of decayed pieces. So sure, there's little physical evidence of a crash, or anything other than the plane's identity.
But physical evidence isn't the only kind of evidence. That he was a French pilot flying over hostile German territory during wartime, and that those missions were commonly shot down, provides some evidence. Also, St. Ex had crashed dozen of times previously as a pioneering aviator flying mail runs to Algeria and South America -- the setting for "The Little Prince" is in fact based on a crash in northern Africa -- so mechanical failure is by no means out of the question.
Besides, anyone who's read "Flight to Arras" or "Night Flight" -- and St. Ex's striking depictions of courage, duty, the constitution of a good life, and his profound love for his wife -- would find it hard to imagine a suicide crash.
I'm afraid many media accounts of this find are trying to interpret it in light of "The Little Prince", which is the only thing most people know about him, while that was far from being St. Ex's most important intellectual or literary contribution.
It's your basic Cheap Irony Fix®, as mandated by the Rules of Mass Media, Article IV, Section 5, Paragraph B.
For the record, I don't believe for a minute that he went down because he wanted to, or thought he wanted to.