Burma Spitfires: UK Team Searches For Planes

Mark Stone, Asia Correspondent
Burma Spitfires: UK Team Searches For Planes

A British search team is continuing the hunt for a fleet of long-lost World War Two Spitfire planes in Burma.

Photos taken by the group show one of three search sites - an area within the perimeter fence of Yangon International Airport.

The three sites are being excavated by aviation enthusiasts and archaeologists.

As many as 36 planes are believed to have been buried at the airport, which was under British occupation during WWII and called RAF Mingaladon.

According to the search team, who have carried out 17 years of research, as many as 140 of the planes were buried in near pristine condition at various sites by American military engineers at the end of the war.

Historians have said it was common for departing armies to bury equipment that was surplus to their requirements.

With the war over and no orders to return the equipment, decisions were made locally to bury it all.

Earlier this week, the team, led by David Cundall, a Lincolnshire farmer, discovered a wooden crate believed to contain one of the planes at a different search site.

Using a special camera, they established that the crate was full of muddy water.

"The images I have seen are not conclusive but it is very encouraging that we have found a wooden crate in the same area where the Americans buried the Spitfires," Mr Cundall said.

"The water is muddy, it's causing problems, we can't see through the water and we will have to pump the water out before we can give more information … "

The agreement to allow the excavation only came last October and was made possible only after reforms by Burma's government. A deal was signed by David Cameron on a visit to the country last year.

The team aims to recover as many as 60 planes in the first phase of excavation work.

Thirty-six of them are thought to be at the site within Yangon Airport, with another 18 at Myitkyina, in the northern Kachin State, and six more in Meikthila, central Burma.

As well as sophisticated equipment, the team has the help of geophysicists from the University of Leeds and a remarkable eyewitness: 91-year-old war veteran Stanley Coombe who says he witnessed the burial of the aircraft.