The pilot’s seat can be a lonely place. The desert, something else entirely. At noon the sun burns, boiling the expanse of sand that blows across the dunes and mercilessly into the faces of the two pilots, whose fallen aircraft releases a faint pipe of smoke, dissolving into the heat like a mirage. Their maps are poor and so they wander. No sign of water, no houses on the horizon that would point to civilization. They check their food supply. Two oranges, some grapes, a thermos of coffee, a handful of crackers, chocolate, a small portion of wine and a day’s ration of water. It occurs to them they may never leave. The nights are cold in the Sahara Desert.
The two pilots, Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Andre Prevot, had crashed en route to Saigon from Paris in an attempt to break the speed record for a prize of 15,000 Francs. That morning had found Saint-Exupery at the control panel navigating through clouds above cities, jungles and mountains from the first glint of dawn on December 30, 1935. Saint-Exupery delights in the freedom of life above the earth.
His joie de vivre does not escape him when he meets the desert ground, but its purpose intensifies by the hour. The golden expanse offers little consolation to he and Prevot, and so he looks inward for solace. “I was no more than a mortal strayed between the sand and stars, conscious of the single blessing of breathing. And yet I discovered myself full of dreams,” Saint-Exupery would later reflect in his memoir, Wind, Sand, and Stars. The physical world soon tightens its grip, however. Days of dehydration find Prevot and Saint-Exupery seized by nausea and hallucinations. One day, Saint-Exupery has a vision of a little prince who has come to earth from his little planet far
Nearing death, Saint-Exupery and Prevot see the silhouette of a figure on horseback in the distance. The figure is a Bedouin man, from Libya, and his face glows with humanity. He has come to rescue them.
“All my friends and all my enemies marched towards me in your person,” Saint-Exupery recalls. “It did not seem to me that you were rescuing me: rather did it seem that you were forgiving me. And I felt I had no enemy left in all the world.”