Racing was tough nowadays, and Paris-Dakar was even more difficult in the 1980s, as pilots could not rely on GPS, and rescue teams’ preparations were minimal. All the ingredients for a young pilot who is so confident that he does not put himself in danger.
At the time, Marc Chatcher did not have a particularly good driver biography: only two participants in 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 1980 and 1981. But when one of his sponsors suggested he take part in the next Paris – Dakar accepts without hesitation. When asked later about this incident, he admitted that he was not aware of the risks involved.
Mark has a mother who was said to be inflexible: Margaret Thatcher, then UK Prime Minister. The Iron Lady has two children: Carol, a writer and journalist, and Mark, who is easily described as a young man who lives like an arrogant man spoiled by his mother.
And so the name Thatcher was found on the entry-list for Paris-Dakar, aboard the Peugeot 504, along with driver Anne Charlotte Verney and mechanic Jackie Garnier.
Mark, meanwhile, is a navigator. At the starting line, he showed confidence: “I played Le Mans. Dakar is my formality,” he assures us. With his crew, he left the Place de la Concorde. Direction: Dakar.
Just two days into the race, there was nothing left of the English youngster’s confidence. Half a day of testing in the Paris region couldn’t prepare him for the severity of the rally raid. The days are very hot and the nights are very cold.
Above all, the browser cannot read the map. The Peugeot 504 must be content to patheticly follow its competitors, sticking to their paths in the sand.
Castaways in the Desert
The accident took place in such a convoy, on January 9, between Tamanrasset and Timiaoine. The car hit a large stone. Rear axle rupture: It’s an immediate desertion.
For lack of better means of communication, other pilots write the coordinates of the crew of the sunken ship. The latter think they have survived: they imagine the organizers will be there for the night with the vacuums trucks.
it will not be. The Peugeot 504 had veered too far from the main course when it was hit. Nobody comes to take them.
Even worse, the crew left without a reserve of water that day as Mark inadvertently forgot to refuel …
Members must decide to legalize what little they have: water from the radiator to drink, and tires to keep warm.
Panic at 10 Downing Street
Meanwhile, at 10 Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher was informed of her son’s disappearance. After a few days with no sign of life, the prime minister begins to despair. It mobilizes all the means that its functionality provides.
After a series of calls, Francois Mitterrand sent three military aircraft to conduct the search. The Algerian Navy sends four aircraft and a helicopter. Even Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States, is wanted. Mark Thatcher’s disappearance became an international affair.
His father, Denise Thatcher, ended up going there.
Finally, after six days of searching, a plane saw a crew-launched distress missile. Pilot Anne Charlotte Fernie attends a reunion: “For the first and last time in my life, I saw a 35-year-old boy take a pair of his father’s slaps.”
Shame all the way
The embarrassment does not end with Thatcher. With the crew stopping at an Algerian hotel before returning home, the foreign minister of Algiers called London to ask the prime minister to settle the bill. He left Mark Thatcher without paying.
It took no more to really reignite the UK in the heat of the controversy over funding the search for the missing crew.
The stain caused by this accident will persist.
A few years later, in 1987, when Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party was running in the general election, Mark asked his mother’s press secretary what he could do to help him. “Leave the country!” , Then the caller is cast.
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