6 Jan 2013

British team hopes to unearth Spitfires in Myanmar

2:28 pm on 6 January 2013

Experts from Britain have flown to Myanmar in a bid to unearth dozens of missing British Spitfires thought to have been buried in the jungle at the end of World War II.

They will search for unused unassembled aircraft which they believe were packed into crates and buried by the RAF in 1945, but a New Zealand Spitfire enthusiast believes the mission is a long shot.

Some 36 planes are thought to be lying undiscovered in Mingaladon - one of three potential sites in the country - with as many as 124 buried in total. Another site is Yangon International Airport which was used during the war.

Farmer and aviation enthusiast David Cundall, from Lincolnshire, is spearheading the dig, having spent 17 years and thousands of pounds researching the project, PA reports.

On Saturday he and his team, which includes archaeologists, scientists and researchers from the University of Leeds, were said to be "confident" of success as they prepare to start their dig on Monday.

Mr Cundall has spoken of plans to return the planes to Britain for restoration to allow them to be flown again.

The 21-strong excavation team includes British war veteran Stanley Coombe, from Eastbourne, who responded to Mr Cundall's appeal for witnesses who saw the Mark XIV Spitfires being buried 68 years ago.

Mr Coombe, now in his early 90s, was stationed in Myanmar at the end of the war and is one of eight eye-witnesses to have come forward.

NZ enthusiast sceptical of mission

The planes are believed to be buried some eight metres to 10 metres below the ground, and David Cundall thinks they may have been protected from erosion due to a lack of oxygen under ground.

But a New Zealand Spitfire enthusiast says he would be stunned if the planes were discovered and thinks the mission is a long shot.

Marton resident Brendon Deere has restored his own Spitfire recovered from Myanmar. He says he wishes the team of archaeologists and researchers the best of luck, but thinks it is more likely that any surplus aircraft were bulldozed or melted down.

"You have to stretch your imagination a little bit to think that they were buried in the middle of the rainy season. I certainly wish the guys that are doing it all the very best, but the probability is that they're just going to find tree roots and mud."

Mr Deere says even if the planes were buried, they are likely to have been destroyed by now.

The contract allowing the dig to go ahead will see the Myanmar government take 50% of the value of aircraft recovered, while David Cundall's share will be 30% and his agent 20%. It follows a recent meeting between British Prime Minister David Cameron and Myanmar President Thein Sein.