Friday, January 04, 2013

The time is right and we are ready: mission to find lost Spitfires of Burma launches

The British architect of an extraordinary hunt for a lost squadron of Spitfires thought to have been buried in Burma at the end of World War II today declared: "Everything is right and we are ready to go." 


Seventeen years after Lincolnshire farmer David Cundall launched his quest to find the buried treasure, he said conditions were finally right to lift the aircraft from the ground. 

"It has been 17 years, I've made 17 visits to Burma and found eight eye witnesses," he said.

"Ground penetrating radar have found images of aeroplane shapes and I can't take things any further without digging.

"I'm very excited because it has been an uphill struggle."

"The time is right, the politics is right, the temperature is right," Mr Cundall said.

 "Everything is right and we are ready to go."

Mr Cundall and a team of around 18 archaeologists, geophysicists and academics leave tomorrow from Britain for Yangon International Airport, where they hope to find a hoard of at least 36 Mark XIV Spitfires, tarred and neatly packaged in crates below the ground.

The discovery could "easily double" the number of Spitfires still flying. More than 20,000 were built in the 1930s and 1940s but only about 35 remain in the skies.

Accompanying the group will be Stanley Coombe, 91, from Eastbourne, who witnessed the burial of six aircraft at the end of the war.

Mr Cundall, 62, added: "I took him out there in 1998 and we stood two metres from the spot.

"He describes a Spitfire box similar to a double decker bus. It's amazing - I couldn't tell you what I was doing two weeks ago."

 Another witness, a Burmese man who was 15 at the time, remembers carrying timber to the site that has recently been found.

The archeological survey of the ground, which begins on Monday, is expected to take ten days.

After that, the team will begin digging and expect to take "a few days" to lift the first crate, buried up to 30ft deep, to the surface.

It is believed that up to 124 Spitfires were buried at three different sites in Burma and Mr Cundall said that if they were all found and returned "back to where they belong" in the UK, it could create 700 jobs.

"We do believe we could sell them all," he said. "They are much sought after aircraft and should be preserved."

The project's lead archaeologist Andy Brockman, a specialist in modern conflict, remains open-minded about what they may discover.

 But Mr Cundall is convinced that the Spitfires will be found "completely undamaged"

The aircraft are believed to have been wrapped in tar paper, put in crates and transported from the factory in Castle Bromwich, West Midlands, to Burma in August 1945.

Some were flown in while others were carried over in ships and protected against the harsh weather conditions.

When the war against the Japanese in Burma ended, they are thought to have been buried to ensure they could not be used by Burmese independence fighters.

Surveys at one of three sites identified in the country have shown large areas of electrically conductive material, suggesting the metal parts of the aircraft, around 30ft deep.

The treasure hunt has been described as a "story of British determination against all odds".

A breakthrough was made when sanctions forbidding the movement of military materials in and out of the country were lifted earlier this year following the intervention of David Cameron.

In October, Mr Cundall was given exclusive rights to the three sites.

Under his agreement with the Burmese authorities, he will be entitled to 30 per cent of the discovery, his Burmese partner to 20 per cent and the Burmese government to 50 per cent, which it is expected to put up for sale.

If the dig goes as planned, Mr Cundall expects his Spitfires to be brought home next year, where they will be restored and returned to the skies.

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