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Spitfire aircrafts locked underground at end of World War II subject of search

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 7th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Some are calling it a wild goose chase with millions of dollars at stake. Backed with a million-dollar guarantee from a Belarusian videogame company, a colorful cadre of aviation buffs are bound and determined to uncover a stash of British fighter planes thought buried in Burma.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - An airplane-obsessed farmer, 63-year-old David Cundall, freelance archaeologist Andy Brockman and a team of excavators are heading to the Burmese city of Yangon this weekend to find planes thought to be carefully buried beneath the former capital's airfield.

"We could easily double the number of Spitfires that are still known to exist," Cundall says. The private pilot has spent nearly two decades pursuing the theory that a batch of the famous fighter planes was buried, in pristine condition, in wooden crates in a riverbed at the end of an airport runway.

"In the Spitfire world it will be similar to finding Tutankhamen's tomb," he says.

The Indiana Jones-type expedition carries no guarantees. Brockman acknowledges that it was "entirely possible" that all the team would find was a mass of corroded metal and rusty aircraft parts, if that.

Eyewitness testimony from British and American veterans as well as elderly local residents of Burma, along with survey data, aerial pictures, and ground radar soundings left him in no doubt that the planes were down there.

"There is a high percentage chance that something is buried there," Charles Heyman, who edits the reference book, "The Armed Forces of the United Kingdom"" says. It's not unusual for British forces to leave behind high-grade equipment in former war zones.

The Spitfire remains the U.K.'s most famous combat aircraft, its reputation cemented by the Battle of Britain. The fast-moving, sleek-looking single-seater aircraft helped beat back waves of German bombers.

Britain built a total of some 20,000 Spitfires, although the dawn of the jet age at the end of World War II meant that the propeller-driven planes quickly became obsolete.

As to why a group of Spitfires would have been boxed and buried, as opposed to scrapped and dumped, remains the biggest question hanging over the project.

Cundall said he first heard of the Burma theory from a fellow plane hunter at a party in Jacksonville, Florida, when two American veterans approached him with an unusual story. The men said they had worked as engineers in what was then known as Burma when they were tasked with carving out a large pit burial pit for the aircraft.

"It was the craziest thing you Brits asked us to do," Cundall quoted the men as saying.

Believing the story immediately, he placed ads seeking more information were placed in magazines with names like FlyPast and Warbirds. Other witnesses came forward.

Finding the site was just half the battle. Cundall said it took 17 years of lobbying to get permission to dig in Burma, now known as Myanmar, due to European sanctions against the country's authoritarian government, and, more recently, its tentative steps toward democracy.
Now, it's "Only a matter of time now before we start digging and find out: 'What's in the box?'" he said.

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