When Charles Lindbergh landed at LeBourget Field outside of Paris on the 21st of May 1927, among his first words- “Is there any news of Nungesser and Coli?” On the 8th of May, French aviators Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli took off from LeBourget in their plane, The White Bird, in an attempt to be first to fly nonstop from Paris to New York. French researcher, Bernard Decre, using the records of the National Archives, aims to tell the story of what happened to The White Bird.
Researcher Bernard Decre and National Archives staff member Mark Mollan at the French Embassy next to an exact model of the plane flown by the French aviators. Photo taken by Trevor Plante.
In May of 1919, French Hotelier Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 Orteig Prize to the first aviator to fly across the Atlantic non-stop between New York and Paris- in either direction. Many aviators made unsuccessful attempts to capture the prize, but it was Charles Lindbergh flying The Spirit of St. Louis who won.
The French Government maintains that The White Bird went down in the English Channel and Mr. Decre has been working with Mark Mollan, our expert on U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard records to prove that it made it across the Atlantic. Between May and August of 1927, using the logbooks of Coast Guard ships and stations, they have tracked the search for the missing plane along the eastern seaboard.
Coast Guard Logbook entry dated Friday May 20, 1927
On the 19th of May, a Coast Guard ship off the coast of Montauk, New York ” … picked up aileron of plane in Napeague Bay off Fort Pond Bay.” And on the 18th of August, the SS Gulfpoint retrieved a ” … piece of wreckage to be part of airplane wing white in color … ” off Norfolk, Virginia.
Telegram and dispatch describing the plane aileron found in Napeague Bay, dated May 20, 1927. Records located by Bernard Decre with the assistance of National Archives staff.
There are 12 billion stories in the records of the National Archives and this is the beginning of one of them. Stay tuned for more on Nungesser and Coli!