Frozen treasure found amid plane wreckage in the French Alps
By Nancy Ing, NBC News Producer
PARIS — A treasure of precious jewels has been found by a young alpinist on the ice caps of Mont Blanc, where it likely was lost decades ago amid the wreckage of a crashed airliner.
The chief commandant of the national police of Albertville, France, confirmed to NBC News that about a hundred small, precious stones were found in a metallic box in the ice caps known as Bossons. Commandant Sylvain Merly said the precious stones were separated in plastic bags that were stamped “Made in India.”
A local jeweler estimates the treasure to be worth between $175,000 and $325,000.
The diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies are believed to have come from one of two Air India planes that crashed in the French Alps in 1950 and 1966.
Locals are familiar with the story of the Boeing 707 belonging to Air India that mysteriously crashed in January 1966. The plane had departed Beirut, Lebanon, and was bound for Geneva when it lost control and struck Mont Blanc, the Alps’ highest peak at 15,781 feet.
165 people died in the crash, 16 years after another Air India plane crashed in the same area.
The young male climber who stumbled across the lost treasure wishes to remain anonymous.
French authorities must now contact their Indian peers to try to find the owners of the jewels. If no one claims the gems, they will be returned to the young Savoyard mountain climber.
A diplomatic suitcase filled with documents was found in the area last month. Merly said as the ice caps change, debris from the plane crashes rises to the surface periodically. Skeletons of monkeys known to have been transported in the Air India crash have also been found in the past.
Arnaud Christmann, another alpinist familiar with the area, is quoted in Le Figaro daily on-line as saying he feared the discovery would trigger “a gold rush” to the area.
Access to the glacier is not difficult but remains dangerous, Christmann said. “Today, the crash site is like a dumping ground for the open sky.”
He asked “for some respect for the area” and regretted the “spirit of treasure hunters” that motivated some mountain climbers.