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Mysterious cache of jewels turns up atop French glacier

By Michael Pearson and Saskya Vandoorne, CNN
September 26, 2013 -- Updated 1834 GMT (0234 HKT)
The jewels may be from the 1950 crash of an Air India flight that smashed into Mont Blanc during a storm, killing all 48 aboard.
The jewels may be from the 1950 crash of an Air India flight that smashed into Mont Blanc during a storm, killing all 48 aboard.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A mountaineer discovers jewels on French glacier
  • They could be from one of two airliners that crashed near the spot, one in 1950, the other 1966
  • French authorities are trying to trace the owners

(CNN) -- It reads like the opening scene of an "Indiana Jones" movie.

A young man climbing a French glacier finds a cache of glittering jewels wrapped in bags stamped "Made in India" -- remnants, perhaps, of cargo from an ill-fated airliner called the Malabar Princess.

The best thing about it? This story is true.

It happened early this month on a glacier overlooking the southeastern French village of Chamonix, Albertville police Chief Sylvain Merly said Thursday.

Last year, alpinists found this diplomatic bag on Mont Blanc, believed to be from a 1966 Air India crash.
Last year, alpinists found this diplomatic bag on Mont Blanc, believed to be from a 1966 Air India crash.

The climber -- who Merly said asked to remain anonymous -- found the jewels inside a metal box atop the glacier. He turned them over to police in Bourg-Saint-Maurice on September 9.

Merly declined to characterize the stones, which are being described in French media as rubies, sapphires and emeralds. They're worth somewhere between €130,000 (about $175,000) and €246,000 ($331,600), Merly said.

French authorities are trying to trace ownership of the jewels. If proof of ownership can't be established, the unnamed 20-something mountaineer could stand to receive a portion of their value, Merly said.

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The gems may be from the 1950 crash of Air India Flight 245, the "Malabar Princess." The plane smashed into nearby Mont Blanc during a storm, killing all 48 aboard. When it crashed, the plane was preparing to make a stop in Geneva, Switzerland, as it flew between Bombay -- now Mumbai -- and London.

French authorities say it's also possible the gems could have been aboard an Air India Boeing 707, the "Kanchenjunga," that crashed in nearly the same spot 16 years later. A diplomatic bag from that flight was recovered last year.

Adding a bit of intrigue to the story, the 1966 crash is the subject of scattered conspiracy theories suggesting the Air India flight, which carried the father of India's nuclear industry, Homi Bhabha, was shot down by a fighter jet or missile.

Debris from the wrecks routinely emerges from the bottom of the glacier, including metal, wire and even a piece of landing gear discovered in 1986, according to a Mont Blanc tourist site.

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CNN's Michael Pearson reported and wrote from Atlanta; Saskya Vandoorne reported from London.

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