RANGOON—The leader of a British-Burmese team who are planning to unearth British World War II fighter planes in Burma said he was optimistic about the excavation, which will start in a few days after some initial surveys are completed.
David Cundall, team leader and a British aviation enthusiast, said an inspection was being carried out at Mingaladon Township near Rangoon’s international airport—where some of the Spitfires are thought to be buried—to ensure that there are no drainage pipes, electrical cables or telephone lines that could be damaged during the dig.
“After that, we should start the excavation at Mingaladon in a few days time,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Cundall said there could be 36 fighter planes buried underground in Rangoon and 18 in Myitkyina, Kachin State’s capital in northern Burma, according to testimonies by American, English and Burmese eye witnesses, who helped bury the planes.
American engineers locked dozens of the famous British fighter planes underground in wooden crates at the end of World War II, which brought heavy fighting to Burma.
The Briton said the team had also carried out preliminary surveys in Myitkyina and the results were encouraging. “We’ve found wooden crates and the content is not clear because of the muddy water. Hopefully in a couple of weeks we will have some better, clear photo evidence,” he said.
Cundall and his local partner Shwe Taung Por struck a deal with the Burmese government about the excavation in October last year.
Htoo Htoo Zaw, the managing director of Shwe Taung Por, said if any Spitfire airplanes are found they will be shared with the Burmese government, which will receive half of any of the findings, while Cundall will take 30 percent and the Burmese firm 20 percent.
The UK government has already made it clear that it will not make any claims to the RAF planes.
The iconic Spitfire is one Britain’s most famous combat aircraft and gained its reputation during the Battle of Britain, when the fast-moving, sleek-looking single-seater aircraft helped beat back waves of German bombers.
Britain built a total of some 20,000 propeller-driven Spitfires, according to the AP. It still remains unclear why the Spitfires were ordered to be buried in Burma, and not scrapped and dumped.
It took Cundall 17 years of lobbying to get permission to dig in Burma, a task complicated by European sanctions against the country’s authoritarian government, and, more recently, its tentative steps toward democracy, the AP reported. Cundall beat out other groups in an effort to win exclusive rights to the dig.
A Belarusian company called Wargaming.net best known for its multiplayer titles including “World of Warplanes” and “World of Tanks,” is sponsoring the 21-man excavation team, which was reportedly promised $500,000 toward the dig and up to another $500,000 if the Spitfires were found.