Letters frozen in time arrive after 60 years

When an airliner crashed near the summit of Mont Blanc 60 years ago, rescuers fought desperately through storms to reach the site.

It took them three days, but their search proved in vain. There were no survivors from the 40 passengers and eight crew of the Malabar Princess, an Air India Lockheed Constellation bound for a stopover in Geneva on its way to London.

However, the story lived on. In the popular French film Amelie, Audrey Tautou’s character creates a fictional letter — from a lover who had died in the crash — for a lonely female concierge after hearing about mountaineers finding similar letters. Now a British student on a field trip to the Alps to examine global warming has added to the legend after stumbling upon a mailbag from the Malabar Princess.

Remarkably, some of the letters it contained have survived sufficiently for Freya Cowan, a third-year geography student, to embark upon a project to reunite about 75 letters and birthday cards with the senders or intended recipients…

A few letters from the Malabar Princess have been recovered previously but nothing on this scale. It would seem that none of the mail found by Miss Cowan was written by passengers on the plane, who were seamen bound for a new ship in Sunderland. The bag was destined for the US and the Dundee team has already succeeded in finding the owners of some correspondence.

Emergence of old mail considered long gone always makes for an interesting story.

Just hanging onto old mail can lead to new directions. My favorite autograph – of Ray Bradbury – is on a penny postcard he sent me in 1951. he had to add another 1-penny stamp because the rate had just been increased to 2 pennies.

And a discussion about it led me to an autograph letter and photograph from one of my favorite recent authors, Michel Faber.

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