There are countless wonders to behold when venturing up beautiful mountainsides, but it’s not every day that climbers discover precious gems.
Yet that’s exactly what happened when a French alpinist approached the summit of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in western Europe. A metal box containing emeralds, rubies, and sapphires was sticking out through the ice and snow, and the young man just so happened to notice it.
Upon further inspection, he found that the box contained around 100 precious stones. Together, they were valued by a jeweler to be worth €246,000 (around $276,400). Rather than taking the treasure for himself, the alpinist chose to head straight to the police.
“You can say the climber who made this find is someone very honest,” local gendarme chief Sylvain Merly said. “He saw very well that what he had in his hands was something very valuable, realising straight away that it was precious stones that had been very carefully wrapped.”
Some of the sachets the gems were placed in were labeled “made in India,” one of many clues that would lead to the discovery that the gems likely came from one of two tragic airplane accidents that involved the airline Air India.
The first happened in 1950 and the second in 1966. After investigating, authorities believe the gems most likely came from the Boeing 707 that was en route from Mumbai to New York on January 24, 1966. None of the 11 crew members or the 106 passengers survived.
“He [the alpinist] was a mountaineer, he knew the history of the two plane crashes here and realised that this find was likely linked to those crashes,” Sylvain said. “Maybe he didn’t want to keep something that had belonged to someone who died. So he handed it in.”
Whatever his reason, because the gems were turned in, the Indian authorities were contacted and were able to try and find the owner or a living relative. Their search began in 2013 and didn’t end until 2021 when it became clear that they had reached a dead end. One question remained: Who would receive the jewels?
In the end, it was decided that half of the gems would go to the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc council. The group has since chosen to display them at the Chamonix Crystal Museum, a popular gallery that was closed due to renovations but reopened on December 19, 2021.
As for the other half of this incredible find, it’s going back into the hands of the kind alpinist who discovered the gems in the first place!
Some believe the alpinist should have been able to keep all of the gems, but the lucky climber said he’s “very happy” with the council’s decision and “does not regret having been honest” about what he discovered. He’s hoping to use his reward to fund renovations to his apartment!
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