The Mystery of Mont Blanc's Hidden Treasure

There were no survivors when Air India flight 101 crashed into Mont Blanc, France’s highest peak, in January of 1966. Expeditions to reclaim bodies and wreckage were delayed and then abandoned by weather and treacherous mountain conditions. But over the years, many pieces have been recovered. The most intriguing is a small case of precious gems: emeralds, rubies, and sapphires that had been encased in ice for decades. A mountain climber found it last year and turned it into the mayor of Chamonix. They’ve been stored in a vault at the Town Hall ever since. The BBC’s Patrick Bodenham tried to get a photograph of the gems.  

The prefect's office said they had nothing to do with the investigation and shunted me on to Francois Bouquin, head of the mayor's office in Chamonix. Bouquin said the Mayor's office was no longer responsible for leading the enquiry, pointing me to the court of Bonneville.

The court of Bonneville directed me to the court of Albertville, which, confused, sent me back to Bouquin - who said, in hindsight, he wasn't sure which courthouse was in charge.

After repeated calls and many hours spent on hold listening to Mozart's violin concertos, I pointed out to Bouquin that I had spoken to everyone he suggested. Then he finally gave an answer: "I don't want to have to tell you 'No'. But you cannot see the stones. At this time, it is a question of security. We are handling our own investigation into the case. We do not feel the media are useful or necessary at this time."

Bodenham got a picture, though, the one you see here.

"It's so French, this story," says Francoise Rey, a local historian and author of Crash au Mont Blanc, a book about the two Air India accidents. "You ask to see the stones and they send you a photo of them in a bag."

Who owned those precious stones carried on the airliner? Clues point to two different families that trade in gems, but almost fifty years later, neither can produce any proof of ownership, and the mayor of Chamoix is not reaching out for answers. After two years, the property belongs to the mayor and the climber who found the case. Read more about the mystery at BBC magazine. -via Dark Roasted Blend


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