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France Hails ‘Little Prince’ Author

June 29, 2000

PARIS (AP) _ As France celebrates the centenary of the birth of one of its most beloved writers, the mystery shrouding the death of Antoine de Saint-Exupery may soon be lifted.

The author of ``The Little Prince,″ the tender fable ranked as one of the world’s best-selling books, was born June 29, 1900 in Lyon. He disappeared during World War II while flying a reconnaissance mission for the Allies over the Mediterranean on July 31, 1944.

Mechanical failure, suicide or hostile fire? The answer may lie 275 feet under the sea, entombed in wreckage recently discovered by a French deep-sea diver off the southern French coast near Cassis.

The wreckage is thought to resemble Saint-Exupery’s Lockheed Lighting P38 aircraft, modified for photographic reconnaissance, and his family is hoping the French government will authorize a naval vessel to haul it to the surface.

The wreckage was the latest in series of finds, none of which has yet been authenticated, in the search for clues to Saint-Exupery’s death at age 44 during a secret mission to collect data on German troop movement in the Rhone River Valley.

A bracelet Saint-Exupery may have been wearing when his plane vanished was caught in a fisherman’s net in the same zone two years ago.

Meanwhile, officials in Lyon have planned a series of festivities marking the centenary of their native son.

Lyon’s international airport will be renamed Lyon-Saint-Exupery on Thursday to honor Saint-Ex, as he is popularly known, and an air show featuring parachutists, 100 hot air balloons and fighter jets will recall his twin passion for adventure and aviation.

Some 50 planes will honor Saint-Exupery’s last flight, taking off from Bastia, Corsica and landing in Lyon.

Besides overseeing official celebrations, Saint-Exupery’s heirs have been embroiled in controversy over the recently unearthed memoirs of Consuelo de Saint-Exupery, the author’s little-known, South American wife who died in 1979.

A best-seller since its release this spring, ``Memoires de la Rose″ depicts the famed novelist as capricious and immature, an incorrigible womanizer who kept going back to his increasingly embittered young wife.

The couple, who married in 1931 after a six-month courtship, had no children. When the author of ``Night Flight″ and ``Fighter Pilot″ disappeared, Consuelo was only 29.

Saint-Exupery’s heirs have contested the book, claiming it was written by Consuelo’s lover, the well-known Swiss philosopher Denis de Rougemont.

Immortalized by her husband as ``the rose″ in 1942, Consuelo, whose name figures on the mystery bracelet now in family hands, has been conspicuously absent from biographies of her famous husband.

Rene Beaupaire, a Dominican priest and member of Lyon’s Saint-Ex2000 commission, said the writer-pilot emerges from Consuelo’s memoirs as more human.

``He’s no archangel caught between heaven and earth, but a man, like you and me,″ Beaupaire told the French daily Liberation.

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