Like a treasure chest stuffed with priceless booty, as many as 20 World War II-era Spitfire planes are perfectly preserved, buried in crates beneath Burma — and after 67 years underground, they’re set to be uncovered.
The planes were shipped in standard fashion in 1945 from their manufacturer in England to the Far East country: waxed, wrapped in greased paper and tarred to protect against the elements. They were then buried in the crates they were shipped in, rather than let them fall into enemy hands, said David Cundall, an aviation enthusiast who has spent 15 years and about $200,000 in his efforts to reveal the lost planes.
In August 1945, the Mark XIV aircraft, which used Rolls-Royce Griffon engines instead of the Merlins of earlier models, were put in crates and transported from a factory in the West Midlands to Burma. Once they arrived, however, the Spitfires were deemed surplus to requirements. The order was given to bury 12 Spitfires without even unpacking them. It is possible that a further eight were then buried in December 1945.
Mr Cundall said: ”In 1945, Spitfires were 10 a penny. Jets were coming into service. Spitfires were struck off charge, unwanted. Lots of Spitfires were just pushed off the back of aircraft carriers into the sea. On land, you couldn’t leave them for the locals – they might have ended up being used against you.”
Ground radar images showed that inside the crates were Spitfires with their wings packed alongside the fuselages. The Britons want to work to restore as many of the 20 Spitfires as possible and get them flying. There are only about 35 flying in the world.
The final obstacle to recovering the Spitfires, however, is political: international sanctions forbid the movement of military materials in and out of Burma, and it was also feared the regime would not allow any foreign excavations.
But because of the new, reforming stance of the government, the sanctions on movement of military material may be lifted on April 23. With the help of Mr Cameron and his visit to Burma, a deal is being negotiated and hopes are high that it will conclude with President Thein Sein granting permission for the dig.
The 62-year-old man — a British farmer by trade — realized the fate of the aircraft thanks to an offhand comment a group of American veterans made to a friend, he told the Sydney Morning Herald.