YANGON – A team hunting for a rumored hoard of World War II Spitfire planes in Myanmar left Britain on Saturday to start the dig, comparing the excitement to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.
The 21-member team believes there could be as many as 36 of the iconic single-seat British fighter aircraft buried in sealed crates up to 10 metres beneath Yangon airport, a wartime airfield, with more at two other sites in Myanmar.
Britain, the former colonial power in what was then Burma, is thought to have buried the brand-new planes in 1945 as they were surplus by the time they arrived by sea.
The dig, set to start at Yangon airport on Monday, has excited military history and aviation enthusiasts around the world.
There are thought to be fewer than 50 airworthy Spitfires left in the world and the digs could potentially double their number if they remain in pristine condition.
Project leader David Cundall told AFP that getting a first glimpse of Spitfire would be like the 1922 discovery of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb.
“It’s similar to the Tutankhamun find in Egypt many years ago and Lord Carnarvon said to Howard Carter when he was looking through the hole ‘can you see anything?’ , and he said, ‘yes, wonderful things’, and I’m going to say the same thing,” he said.
Cundall, a farmer and aircraft enthusiast, has been on a long chase for the rumored lost Spitfires.
“We’ve interviewed eight eyewitnesses pointing to the exact spot,” he said.
“Some have told us in great detail how they were buried, the depth and the configuration all fits correctly the location.
“After 17 years you do get a little bit weary but there’s now enough energy left in me to finish the project, and I’d like to do it as soon as possible: get the airplanes back to the UK, have them restored and see them flying at airshows.”
Speaking at London Heathrow Airport before flying out, lead archeologist Andy Brockman said: “The evidence so far takes us to a particular part of former RAF Mingaladon. What our job is now is to follow those strands of evidence and turn all the rumour and speculation and hypothesis into facts in the ground from the archaeology that we discover.”
Cundall’s share of any planes found will be 30%, his agents will have 20%, while the Myanmar government will keep 50%, according to agreements they have signed.
“There are very few Spitfires that you can actually say are 100 percent original; these are brand new Mark XIV Spitfires,” he said.
“The fuselages were wrapped in brown paper, grease paper to preserve them, the wooden joints were tarred to keep the water out. They did go to an awful lot of trouble to bury these.
“It was a tool of war, yes, but I’m trying to make it a tool of friendship to bring Burma and Britain closer together.”