The French Report
Supplementary Information
Nungesser & Coli

Ministry of City Planning, Housing,
and Transportation

Secretariat of State in the Service of
The Ministry of City Planning,
Housing, and Transportation,
In charge of Transportation

General Inspector of Civil Aviation
and Meteorology

Completing the report entitled
“Nungesser and Coli Disappear
Aboard l’Oiseau Blanc May, 1927”

published in June, 1984
by the Technical Service of Aerial Navigation

 

by Clément-Pascal Meunier
General Engineer of Civil Aviation

September, 1984

246, rue Lecourbe 75732
Paris Cedex 15


NOTICE

The planned East-West aerial crossing of the North Atlantic by Charles Nungesser and François Coli in May of 1927 aboard l’Oiseau Blanc has been the subject of a published report intended for the Minister of Transportation in August 1982.

The Minister thought that the information contained in this report could constitute useful documentation for those interested in the history of French flights. He consequently decided to assure a wide diffusion of the work, and the following text corresponds to this desire in being more precise than the original report, which has undergone numerous modifications and has received additional information that the accomplishment of the investigation made convenient.

Any reader who wishes may bring up new technical elements to add to this report and is invited to present them in writing to General Engineer Meunier.


The report published in June of 1984 under the title, “Nungesser and Coli Disappear Aboard l’Oiseau Blanc – May 1927” includes in its sixth chapter (An American Report) some lines about an anecdote furnished in 1982 to us of an account by a writer on the subject of a “story about the possible crash of an airplane in an area which is still very isolated and inaccessible in eastern Maine” (a state in the extreme northeast of the United States, sharing a long border with Canada).

At the end of April, 1984 (the publication of the above report was already started), the French Ambassador to the United States let us know that his Transportation Advisor had had a visit from an American professional pilot, Mr. Richard E. Gillespie, who came to make him aware of his research project on a plane which crashed on May 9, 1927, in the northeast of Maine.

The crash of this plane was heard by a woodsman, Anson Berry, deceased in 1936. While he was fishing that afternoon on Round Lake, he heard a plane engine that, after some misfiring, ceased to function. The noise of a forced landing followed. The witness did not see the plane because of the fog and low clouds. He did not attempt to go to the area of the crash.

For Mr. Gillespie, that airplane could only have been l’Oiseau Blanc.

The record sent shows evidence that this pertains to the above-mentioned report, the publication of which occurred a few days after the French Embassy’s communication. In particular, the American writer who had written to this reporter in 1982, Mr. Gunnar Hansen, is associated with the Gillespie brothers in this research project,1 named “Midnight Ghost” in memory of a phrase written by Charles Lindbergh on Nungesser and Coli’s attempt in his book The Spirit of St. Louis. The project originators have already (in April, 1984) assured an exploration of the area that they propose to search. CBS, an American TV channel interested in this affair, has made a show on the subject, and, more important, the Project has received a declaration from Mr. Roland Nungesser.

As we were saying in the above-mentioned report, if the hour mentioned in this testimony is exact (mid-afternoon of May 9), it corresponds approximately to the termination of l’Oiseau Blanc’s flight. It is compatible with the hours of flight over Harbour Grace, and at Newfoundland as well. The location of the presumed crash (Round Lake) is located on a convenient route between Newfoundland and New York: approximately 45 degrees north and 67.5 degrees west.

Even though these events are indisputably disturbing, it seems necessary to question the circumstances of this final part of the flight. If we postulate that the airplane heard at Round Lake is indeed l’Oiseau Blanc, it seems highly probable that it was the same one that was seen at Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. Why did the crew pursue a New York destination when they had certain knowledge of the plane’s range and knew without the slightest doubt at the time of the flight over Newfoundland that the amount of available fuel left would not permit them to reach New York? In addition, the weather was most likely uncertain, if not bad, towards the southwest; an immense fog cover was spreading under them; and they had explicitly considered before their departure the danger in such conditions.

The preceding taken into account, the meaning of Anson Berry’s testimony and the circumstances surrounding his account should be made the subject of a very extensive critical analysis. Further examination should be made to see if any other plane perhaps was in flight at the same time in the same place, since a simple power reduction in an engine can at times be interpreted as a breakdown.

And how does Project Midnight Ghost bring up an interesting view of this testimony? It is by its research technique that it is worthy of attention. We have indicated in effect that the zone of the eventual crash is situated in a part of the state of Maine which is very difficult to access, therefore rendering all searching by way of all-terrain vehicles or even by foot extremely difficult and surely in some places impossible. The site is very wooded. There is a snow covering during a good part of the year, and as soon as it thaws, there is a heavy growth of vegetation. These characteristics would explain why Anson Berry did not attempt to find the landing area.

Confronted with these difficulties, Mr. Richard E. Gillespie proposes to carry out a fine sweeping of the area where the crash occurred, which a detailed examination of Anson Berry’s testimony permits, in theory, to reduce to only a few square kilometers. This is to be done by way of a proton precession magnetometer transported by air. If the plane has not been totally destroyed by the crash, and if, in particular (which is probable), the engine remains in the form of a metallic block of 400kg, such a detector, under the condition that the detector passes at a short distance, should be able to give significant results, even if the engine is deeply buried.2

Mr. Richard E. Gillespie has the scientific support of NASA concerning preliminary work. He has also the collaboration of the Smithsonian Institution and Franklin Institute in particular. In France, Mr. Roland Nungesser brought him the encouragement of The Committee for the Memory of Nungesser and Coli.

Mr. Gillespie has already begun as we have said to search both by air and ground the area around Round Lake. Magnetometer measurements have been carried out by NASA on two motors similar in size and age to the Lorraine-Dietrich 12 Eb engine with which l’Oiseau Blanc was equipped. A similar land measurement for this last engine is planned.

The prospective expensive operations planned by Project Midnight Ghost should take place in the few months to come.


1 This is no longer the case. Ed.
2 This approach was finally determined to be impractical; ground searches on foot have been employed since the autumn of 1984. Ed.

Translator’s Note Introduction Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3
Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Supplement Acknowledgements

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