On 30 December 1935, at 2:45 a.m., after 19 hours and 44 minutes in the air, Saint-Exupéry, along with his mechanic-navigator André Prévot, crashed in the Libyan desert, during an attempt to break the speed record in a Paris-to-Saigon air race and win a prize of 150,000 francs.
Both Saint-Exupéry and Prévot miraculously survived the crash, only to face rapid dehydration in the intense desert heat.
Their maps were primitive and ambiguous, leaving them with no idea of their location. Lost among the sand dunes, their sole supplies were grapes, two oranges, a thermos of sweet coffee, chocolate, a handful of crackers, and a small ration of wine.
They had only one day’s worth of fluids. They both saw mirages and experienced hallucinations, which were quickly followed by more vivid hallucinations.
By the second and third day, they were so dehydrated that they stopped sweating . On the fourth day, a Bedouin on a camel discovered them and administered a native rehydration treatment that saved their lives.
The near brush with death would figure prominently in his 1939 memoir, Wind, Sand and Stars, winner of several awards.
Saint-Exupéry’s classic novel ‘The Little Prince, which begins with a pilot being marooned in the desert, is a reference to this experience.
On 31 July 1944, he took off in an unarmed plane on his ninth reconnaissance mission from an airbase on Corsica, he did not return, dramatically vanishing without a trace.