Search on for Lindbergh's Lost French Rivals

//

Search teams using underwater sonar, scuba divers and new accounts will try to solve one of the great aviation mysteries of all time: What happened to the L’Oiseau Blanc, or White Bird, a 31-foot long cloth-and-wood biplane that vanished while trying to cross the Atlantic from Paris to New York in 1927.

The disappearance of the plane and crew has been the subject of decades of speculation since two French World War I aces -- Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli -- took off from Le Bourget airfield north of Paris on the morning of May 8, 1927. The flight had a two-week jump on Charles Lindbergh, who departed New York in the Spirit of St. Louis on May 20.

PHOTOS: Amelia Earhart's Fate Reconstructed

The aviators took off without a radio or life raft. They even dropped their landing gear shortly after becoming airborne to save weight.

The two Frenchmen were attempting the first-ever transatlantic crossing and the right to a $25,000 prize. Witnesses at the time say they saw the plane cross England and Ireland, and crowds of people gathered in New York Harbor expecting the white plane to make a triumphant water landing at the Statue of Liberty. After several days passed without word, the flight was presumed lost and U.S. Coast Guard ships started a search and rescue mission.

In the decades since, reports have surfaced about bits of debris from L’Oiseau Blanc being found in northern Maine, Newfoundland or other parts of the Canadian coastline. None have survived. In the past five years, however, French businessman and aviation enthusiast Bernard Decre has pursued the case with new zeal.

After researching archival search records in France, Canada and the United States, Decre believes the aircraft went down just off the coast of St. Pierre-et-Miquelon, a French territory comprising several islands south of Newfoundland.

“It is a strange and fabulous story,” Decre said at the French Embassy in Washington. “Each year we receive more information.”