White Bird

First of three search expeditions for the White Bird, the aircraft flown by Nungessor & Coli, who vanished on transatlantic flight in 1927. October, 1984.

Early on May 8, 1927, twelve days before Charles Lindberg was to make his historic flight, two famous WWI French flying aces took off from Le Bourget airfield near Paris on an east to west flight across the Atlantic to New York. They were one of the first who successfully managed to get off the ground with a fuel-over laden airplane and soar out over the Atlantic.

Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli were already the toast of France. Nungesser had shot down 44 German planes and barnstormed in Europe and the United States after the war. Coli was also an ace, but later gained fame on a long distance flight to Africa.

After takeoff the L’Oiseau blanc (the White Bird), a Levasseur bi-wing, open cockpit aircraft powered by a 450 horsepower Lorraine-Dietrich 12 cylinder engine, dropped its landing gear and flew out over the English Channel. It was last sighted heading over the ocean from the eastern shore of Ireland.

The White Bird then simply vanished and was never seen again. It was not until 1980 when Gunnar Hanson, a freelance writer, researched and published an article on a man by the name of Anson Berry who was living near Machias, Maine, in 1927 and who claimed to hear an aircraft fly over his isolated camp late in the afternoon of May 9th, 1927. Anson, told several friends and neighbors he had heard the plane overhead in the overcast and but could not see it. He also stated the engine sounded erratic and it sounded to him as if the plane crashed in the distance.

Gunner dug deeper and found a number of other reports and a few sightings beginning in Newfoundland and traveling on a line south past Nova Scotia and into the coastal region of Maine. He then ran onto a report by a hunter who said he’d found an old engine buried in the ground sometime in 1950. The site was within a mile of where Anson Berry heard the plane pass.

Gunner organized a group, including the hunter, a gentleman by the name of Ray Beck of Chatham, New York. Coincidentally, Bob Fleming and I were also researching the mysterious flight and heard about Gunner. I contacted him, offered to fund some of the search and flew up to Bangor, Maine.

The country is beautiful, and in the bog areas impossible to penetrate. The first trek we accomplished very little. While preparations were made for a second attempt, I contacted the well respected psychic, Ingo Swann, and asked him to take a crack at it.

He accompanied us on the second try and we came up dry. At the same time there was a group led by a Rick Gillespie who was also searching for the lost plane. Interestingly he didn’t know about our efforts. None of us wished to join his organization because he lived on media hype. And my feeling has always been not to make a big deal out of an expedition unless you can prove you actually discovered your intended target.

Swann later arranged for an experiment with several other psychics. Strange as it seems, working separately they all put the downed aircraft within a quarter of a mile from each other’s projections on the southern slope of the Round Hills near Round Lake.

What can I say. We combed the area foot by foot on the third attempt. The White Bird isn’t there.

The search goes on, however. No one wants to quit.

My personal theory, two in fact, is that it did not come down near where Anson Berry heard it, but some miles further south. Or, and I like this over any others, the plane went down in an impenetrable bog and chances of it ever being found are quite nil.

12 Responses to White Bird

  1. Colonel Tom says:

    I heard that the compass was found in the woods and ended up being sold at a flea market in Maine and is now back in the hands of the family? is this correct? if so it proves the plane crashed in Maine, and what about the propeller? wouldn’t that be hanging on some hunters bedroom wall it was a very large unusual propeller. sounds more feaseable its underwater off Newfoundland and not discovered yet Colonel Tom

  2. james says:

    Off subject but myself and my children love and respect what you do! Bringing things lost to everyone back so we can all enjoy! And not for press but for love of history! Thank you for being you.

  3. Woody Peard says:

    I’m headed overseas this fall to do a GPR survey of an area in the Marshall Islands, where I have a photo of Japanese soldiers burying aircraft parts during WW2. I agree with you Clive, Ric Gillespie is powered by media hype and a complete lack of conclusive evidence that Earhart crashed there. He has one clue that places someone there that was involved with Earhart’s disappearance, but he doesn’t know what he has. If I had NUMA’s resources I could solve the mystery in 90 days. I’ve been doing it all out of pocket for over 14 years. That’s how it goes!

  4. Don C. Petersen says:

    I understand they just recently uncovered a photograph of plane wreckage near that area.sounds like its worth investigating. and what a find it would be.
    Don C.Petersen

  5. Eric Hall says:

    I just don’t understand these researchers busily taking gratuitous potshots at each other. It really is sad, if not shameful, to see it.
    Maybe if all of these intelligent people climbed down off their egos, stopped trying to score points off each other and learnt how to co-operate, the cause of science and research would advance 100 years overnight.

  6. Chris says:

    Of course, if they had indeed made it to Maine, it wouldn’t have been what they set out to accomplish, nor negate what Lindbergh did–become the first person to fly from either New York to Paris or Paris to New York (which is what Nungesser and Coli were trying to do). Also, as we know, Lindbergh was the first to fly solo across the Atlantic, and, despite what the New York Times stupidly wrote in an article many years ago, it would not “alter history” and not “change the fact that Lindbergh was the first to make it across solo by plane” (paraphrasing)…(duh! Nungesser and Coli = two people in the cockpit!). The truth is that two pilots named Alcock and Brown co-flew the Atlantic non-stop from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1919…Nevetheless, it would be great to know they might have at least made it–even if it was to Maine…still sad, however, that they did not make it alive….

  7. Anthony M. Zeller says:

    Love the work you do. Can’t get enough of your books. It’s all top notch writing. Hopefully, one day you will discover The resting place of the White Bird and then the pilots can be returned home for a heroes burial. Interesting movie was out several years ago about two young kids. They found the wreckage of the White Bird and had an adventure helping the spirits of the pilots finish their flight. Have you heard of this Movie? Can’t remember the title but it is a very interesting movie.

  8. steven seavey says:

    I live on the coast of maine in washington county.I was a commercial diver here for many years.at the end of every season I would take a special soap and do a fresh water dive to get all the salt out of my gear,low and behold one year I decided to do a drift dive for something fun and different,and came across the strangest object that I’ve seen in the waters of maine to date.A huge airplane propeller sticking out of the silt.Sir, I think that I have the location of your missing plane.As a matter of fact, knowing what I do now, I’m Quite sure of it.I would love to be involved with a project with such historical significance.

  9. Will Collier says:

    I dive with several PADI certified “Weed Control” divers in a lake on the NH / Maine border. We constantly work in near-zero and zero vis conditions harvesting Milfoil (a **nasty** weed) from our lake as a volunteer effort. If what Steve Seavey says is true, (above) I can gather a team to document / inspect / recover (as allowed by Maine law) artifacts as we live about 1 or 2 hour(s) away from that area.

  10. Emmanuel Caubet says:

    As a Frenchman living in East Machias and fascinated by the story of Nungesser and Coly, if what says Steven Seavey is correct, let us know where he thinks may be the plane is located. We could help him all together to solve this mystery.

  11. Don Driscoll says:

    Since 2009 a group from France headed by Bernard Decre has been searching for the l’Oiseau Blanc and have concentrated their efforts in the waters off St. Pierre-Miquelon off the south coast of Newfoundland but so far with no results to show. Indeed from their website “La Recherche de l’Oiseau Blanc” and the recent documentary “le mystere de l’Oiseau Blanc”. (on Youtube) they appear to be still considering a number of different localities ranging from St. Pierre to Maine to the Saguenay region of Quebec.However I believe that Decre has not done his research correctly. Indeed one of their maps with their projected path of l’Oiseau Blanc shows the aircraft wandering about Newfoundland like a drunken sailor.

    so here’s some food for thought about the disappearance of l’Oiseau Blanc, it’s lengthy but I believe may be something to consider.

    Back in the mid 70’s I heard a story from an older co-worker who claimed he had seen a plane in a pond in Newfoundland. He said he could see names on the plane and gave me two English names, which I later looked up and found to be those of pilots of a missing transatlantic flight. But he only would give me the general area where he said he saw the plane and he expressed no interest in pursuing the matter further. I looked for a long time over all the aerial photos I could (I had access to vast quantities of aerial photos) , concentrating on the Cape Shore area in Newfoundland, however I could see nothing of interest, so the subject gradually faded from memory as well as the names of the pilots. So when news came out in the early 90’s about a group called TIGHAR trying to find a “plane in the pond” in Newfoundland my interest in the old story was rekindled. However TIGHAR was looking for a missing French plane, the May 1927 l’Oiseau Blanc transatlantic attempt which I had never heard of. All of TIGHAR’s many searches failed to locate the l’Oiseau Blanc.

    I have for some time been trying to piece together logical bits of information as to where the airplane might have flown. I concluded, based on the searching that has been done so far, that it would be best to start by going back to the basics. Where did the preponderance of reported observations come from? It was from at least 11 persons in the Harbour Grace/Bay de Verde Peninsula area of Newfoundland. What did the sworn eyewitness statements say? That a white plane was seen or noise of an airplane was heard coming from the northeast flying to the southwest to Harbour Grace.

    If one looks at the contemporary accounts from numerous persons living in the Harbour Grace area at the time, the sworn statement of a young man James Peddle must not be ignored. To quote from the May 14 edition of the St. John’s Telegram – “James Peddle, aged eighteen, a laborer, was working on the Cottage Road (in Harbour Grace) on Monday morning not far from aerodrome, used some years ago by the Handley Page which was stationed there, when he heard sounds as of a plane out in a north east direction towards the island of Bacalieu. “About two minutes afterwards,” he said, “I saw what I am positive was an aeroplane of a white colour coming over the land from the north east bearing about South West for a few minutes. Then it passed quickly to the South for a few seconds, and then changed its course to northwest half north. It continued on that course which to the best of my judgment would put her on a line to the North of Harbour Grace. It continued on that course till I lost sight of her.”

    Then unconfirmed accounts say that two persons living about five miles west of Harbour Grace heard sounds on last Monday morning (May 9) similar to that made by a plane. If one assumes these accounts are correct then the aircraft could have been on the course stated by Peddle and would probably have continued on this course towards Come by Chance and then towards the Swift Current (Burin Peninsula) area.

    Another quote from the same paper is as follows “A message has been received from the Prime Minister, from Major Cotton (a very experienced pioneer pilot operating in Newfoundland), at present at Detroit, expressing the opinion that if the reports from Harbour Grace are authentic, the chances are that the aeroplane may have made a forced descent in the country west of Come by Chance in the direction of Port aux Basques”.

    Bernard Decre states that in July of 2011 they found “new evidence” in a copy of a St. Pierre paper “the Echo Paroissial N°41 of May-June 1927” with news from Swift Current that the sound of an airplane motor was heard “in the mountain” 13 km to the west in the Hermitage Bay.

    This is in obvious reference to a Mr. Fletcher Beck’s testimony (however the reference to Hermitage Bay is incorrect as it would actually be Placentia Bay). The information I obtained regarding the Swift Current is news is as follows ”Mr. Fletcher Beck of Swift Current, Placentia Bay, who heard the noise of a plane overhead Monday about noon. Beck was 13 miles in the country at the time and a dense fog prevailed. According to the sound, Beck states that the plane was traveling in a westerly direction”. Parts of Placentia Bay area are notorious for fog, particularly in the Isthmus of Avalon area. It could be a fine summer day elsewhere but socked in with fog in this area.

    The first 56 miles of a flight line from Harbour Grace to Swift Current area would require at times a minimum flying altitude of 700 feet ASL to clear the terrain. After that there are a number of surprising peaks in the Pipers Hole River area up to 1100 feet high. After passing these peaks (“mountains”) the terrain would be relatively level at the 6-700 foot elevation for a considerable distance.

    So now I had a location problem – where would 13 miles from Swift Current have placed Mr. Beck in 1927? He obviously had to be west of Swift Current but how would he know his distance (13 miles), how and where would he have crossed Pipers Hole River and where and in which direction would he go from there to hunt? Note that there were no roads in that area at that time. Some time later while working on another project it hit me – I realized that there was an uncompleted and abandoned railway branch line that was built through Swift Current on its way from Goobies to Terrenceville, Some 40 miles was completed but abandoned in 1915 unused – a perfect easy route to use to go into the country. No doubt that Beck would have used this relatively new railbed to go hunting. This branch also had a railway bridge crossing Pipers Hole River and it would be easy to hunt along this railbed and to know where you were even in the fog. And it also would have been easy for Beck to get back to Swift Current fairly quickly (maybe 4 or 5 hours walking and less on horseback) and easily with information even in dense foggy conditions. You just stay on the railbed and you can’t go wrong.

    So if one follows the old abandoned railbed from Swift Current west for about 13 miles you will end up in front and east of an over one mile long 1050 foot elevation “mountain” west of and rising about 400 to 600 feet above the railbed. This is probably “the mountain” referred to in the St. Pierre article mentioned above. Beck would have been at an elevation on the railbed of about 500 feet ASL and there was dense fog so one could presume the fog in the area was at least as low as the 500 foot ASL, and Beck says he heard an airplane motor but did not see a plane.

    So this all fits in with the reports at the time, and if this was the flight path, then if the l’oiseau Blanc cleared the “mountain”, they could have ended up somewhere along Newfoundland’s south coast or in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, not on the Cape Shore nor in the St. Pierre/Miquelon area. Unfortunately a a considerable portion of the potential route west of “the mountain” is comprised of difficult boggy terrain.

    So if anyone wants to pursue this avenue further, I would be pleased to assist.

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