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1930s & Earlier / Failed Nungesser-Coli Flight 1927
Twelve days before Charles Lindbergh's famous first successful trans-Atlantic flight in 1927, two Frenchmen attempted the feat in the reverse direction but tragically vanished. Charles Eugène Jules Marie Nungesser and Francois Coli left Paris’s Le Bourget Airport on May 8, 1927, to fly across the Atlantic non-stop. They hoped to win the $25,000 Orteig Prize offered by a New York City hotelier while confirming France's place atop the postwar aviation world. The two co-pilots had been aviators in the First World War. Nungesser, a fighter pilot, had the third-highest rating for air combat victories amongst French pilots. François Coli was also an ace pilot who commanded a wartime squadron even though he had lost an eye while serving in the French infantry. They set off in the Levasseur PL.8 biplane – a fixed-wing aircraft with two superimposed main wings – named l’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird) to fly the 3,600 miles from Paris to New York City without halting. The cockpit had been enlarged so that both could fit in. Their task was more difficult than Lindbergh's because they were flying into the wind and thus required more fuel. Their plane carried 11,000 pounds and barely got off the ground. Initial news reports circulated in France that the aviators had safely landed in New York, causing joyous celebrations to erupt in Paris. However, those reports were completely untrue: Nungesser and Coli’s plane disappeared somewhere over the Atlantic. The last verified sighting was when l’Oiseau Blanc was seen near Etretat off the coast of Upper Normandy. The twosome's flight plan would have taken them across southern England, then across Ireland to the Canadian coast and from there down to New York City. There were unverified reports of l’Oiseau Blanc being seen near Ireland and being heard near Newfoundland and the French islands of St-Pierre and Miquelon. Nevertheless, no sign of the airplane has ever been found. Three attempts to find wreckage--the last one occurring in June 2012--have all resulted in nothing.