The treasure was found on a glacier near the famous Mont Blanc mountain. (AFP)
Paris, Sept. 26: A young French mountaineer scaling Mont Blanc has stumbled across a treasure trove of emeralds, rubies and sapphires buried for decades following a plane crash.
Valued at around 246,000 euros, the jewels lay hidden among ice crystals in a metal box that was almost certainly on board an Indian plane that crashed in the desolate landscape 47 years ago.
The climber, reportedly in his early 20s and who wishes to remain anonymous, discovered the box bearing around 100 gems earlier this month on the Glacier des Bossons. Some of the sachets containing the jewels bore the stamp “Made in India”.
Gendarmes in Bourg-Saint-Maurice were surprised when he handed in the trove and its glittering contents.
“This was an honest young man who very quickly realised that they belonged to someone who died on the glacier,” local gendarmerie chief Sylvain Merly told local newspaper Le Dauphiné Libérée. “He could have kept them but he preferred to give them to the police.”
French authorities are contacting their Indian counterparts to trace the owner or heirs of the jewels.
Under French law, the jewellery could be handed over to the mountain climber if these are not identified, Merly said. But he added: “I don’t think he was particularly aware of this rule of the Civil Code.”
Two Air India planes have crashed into Mont Blanc in the past 70 years: one in 1950 and one in 1966. Climbers have since encountered all manner of artefacts while traversing the mountain including newspapers, a jet engine, and human parts.
In September last year, India took possession of a bag of diplomatic mail from the Kanchenjunga another artefact from the Boeing 707 flying from Mumbai to London which crashed on the southwest face of Mont Blanc on January 24, 1966. Hundred and seventeen people died in the crash, including the pioneer of India’s nuclear programme, Homi Jehangir Bhabha.
Police believe the jewels were on that flight.
Not everyone was happy with the spectacular find. Arnaud Christmann, the rescue worker who found the diplomatic mail last year, warned it could spark a “gold rush”.
“Today, the crash site is like an open-air dump, with debris from the wreck scattered everywhere,” he told Le Figaro. He said he was worried inexperienced climbers might be tempted to try and seek their fortune on the glacier, which is easy to access but dangerous.