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Honesty has its reward as mountaineer pockets share of Mont Blanc jewels from Air India crash

Climber who found jewels 8 years ago and turned them into police but no owner was found 
Representational Picture of an Air India flight
Representational Picture of an Air India flight
File Picture

Paran Balakrishnan   |   New Delhi   |   Published 07.12.21, 10:06 PM

A mountaineer who came across a metal chest of emeralds, rubies and sapphires on Mont Blanc, believed to have been lost on an Air India flight that crashed more than half a century ago has been able to pocket his share of the treasure trove. 

The remainder of the haul discovered under the desolate Bossons Glacier has gone to local authorities. Eric Fournier who was scaling a glacier found the stones buried under ice in 2013 on Europe’s highest peak and handed them into the police. 

Under French law, as no owner was located, the finder was entitled to a half share with the rest going to the state. The climber said he never regretted his honesty and told Le Parisien newspaper that he would use some of the money from the jewels to refurbish his apartment.

“This week the stones were split” into two equal lots, worth about 150,000 euros ($169,000) each,” said Chamonix Mayor Eric Fourni was quoted by The Guardian as saying. Fourni declared himself “very happy” that the climber had been rewarded for his “decency” in turning the jewels over to the police eight years ago.

It’s believed the jewels belonged to a passenger who was travelling on an Air India flight from Mumbai to New York that crashed into the fog-shrouded mountain amid high winds on January 24, 1996. The crash claimed the lives of all 117 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing 707 437. 

Among those on board the Kangchenjunga were many wealthy passengers including Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the father of India's atomic programme.

Inside the container were three bags of gems marked with the words “Made in India”, "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 a local newspaper back in 2013. French police got in touch with Indian authorities to trace the jewels’ owner or heirs but none was found. Climbers often find debris from plane crashes.

The pilots of the Boeing slammed into the mountain at 4,755m after beginning their descent prematurely to Geneva, which was a stopover. They had miscalculated their position and believed they had passed Mont Blanc.

In 2012, a climber discovered an Indian diplomatic pouch that had been aboard the Boeing and gave it to French authorities. And Timothee Mottin who owns a café-restaurant a short distance away last year found newspapers like The Statesman and the National Herald from the period announcing that Indira Gandhi has become India’s prime minister. He keeps his finds from the crash made from time to time on display in his café.

In 1950, another Indian flight, a Lockheed Constellation, crashed close by on the same glacier, killing all 48 people on board. Authorities believed that the jewels were from the Boeing flight as the earlier flight, the Princess of Malabar, was carrying mainly sailors who were thought unlikely to be in possession of precious jewels.

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