10th July 1970

French prime minister disappears on Jersey boat trip

Elected prime minister in 1957, one day after his 38th birthday, Felix Gaillard had been the youngest head of the French government since Napoleon. His term lasted just over six months when he was brought down by a vote of no confidence in the French National Assembly.

However, Gaillard, who had been in the Resistance during the Second World War, was not one to disappear quietly. In 1958 he became president of the Radical Party, which was perhaps not quite as radical as its name might have suggested, since he wanted the French centrist parties to work together.

Fateful trip to Jersey

On 9 July 1970, he boarded his yacht, the Marie Grillon, with two women. They headed for Jersey where he was due to meet his sister, but there’s some confusion in the papers over what happened next. Some quote his sister in law saying that he never arrived, while others claim that he had radioed his wife in Brittany to say that he was ready to set off for the return trip.

Either way, the yacht disappeared and, the following day, was discovered, wrecked on the Minquiers reef. Although his body was not among the wreckage, the two female passengers were found there, dead but wearing life jackets. Gaillard himself was discovered on 11 July, along with another passenger, floating in the Channel, suggesting that he’d picked up a third passenger somewhere.

It was later determined that the boat had exploded, and Gaillard had drowned. He had been 50 years old.


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