World War Two British plane enthusiast wins right to dig up buried Spitfires in Burma
Daily Telegraph 18 October 2012
Burma's government has signed an agreement with Lincolnshire farmer and aviation enthusiast David Cundall to allow the excavation of dozens of rare Spitfire fighters which were buried in the country at the end of the Second World War.
This historic find could total 60 or more of Britain's most iconic fighter plane, the largest number of Spitfires left anywhere in the world.
The deal comes after the personal intervention of David Cameron, who discussed bringing the planes home to the UK when he met Burma's President Thein Sein in April.
Revered as the plane that won the Battle of Britain in 1940, there are only 35 Spitfires still flying around the world.
With a price tag of £1.5 million or more each, Mr Cundall struck the aviation equivalent of a gold mine when he located the planes in February this year, almost 70 years after they were carefully greased and wrapped to preserve them, before being buried in crates.
"We estimate that there are at least 60 Spitfires buried and they are in good condition," said Mr Htoo Htoo Zaw, Mr Cundall's Burmese business partner.
"This will be the largest number of Spitfires in the world. We want to let people see these historic fighters, and the excavation of these planes will further strengthen relations between Burma and Britain."
Work on digging up the planes will start at the end of October.
The find is even more valuable because the Spitfires are rare Mark XIV fighters, equipped not with the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin engine but with the more powerful Griffon type.
Although more than 20,000 Spitfires were built in Britain during the Second World War, only 2,042 later models were powered with Griffon engines and just a handful are still flying today.
Mr Cundall, 62, spent 16 years and over £130,000 of his own money scouring former RAF airfields in Burma for the planes, after receiving a tip-off that they were buried at the end of a runway in August 1945. It is thought that the aircraft were abandoned in Burma before they ever took to the air because they were no longer needed with so many Spitfires then flying and the war ending.
According to the Burmese press, Mr Cundall and Mr Zaw signed the deal to excavate the planes on Tuesday in Rangoon with Burma's director-general of Civil Aviation Tin Naing Tun.
Burma's transport minister Nyan Tun Aung was cited as hailing the agreement as a milestone in Anglo-Burmese relations, and as recognition by the British government of Burma's recent pro-democracy reforms.
Mr Cameron made retrieving the planes a priority when he travelled to Rangoon in April to meet Mr Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi. But the deal was delayed after a tussle between Mr Cundall and British businessman Steve Boultbee Brooks over who had the right to extract the planes. Most of the Spitfires are expected to be returned to the UK, with some remaining in Burma on display.
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