Spitfire search in Burma draws a blank

Related Articles

Related Articles

It’s the confession that no excavation team ever wants to make – that its search has come up empty.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Spitfire search in Burma draws a blank” was written by Kate Hodal, for theguardian.com on Friday 18th January 2013 13.19 UTC


It’s the confession that no excavation team ever wants to make – that its search has come up empty. But for Spitfire hunters in Burma, who have been on the prowl since early January for dozens of second-world-war-era British fighter planes, that seeming admission came on Friday, when archaeologists were forced to cancel a news conference after their search turned up not planes but cables and pipes instead.

The British-led archaeology team, headed by the Lincolnshire farmer and Spitfire enthusiast David Cundall, has been on the hunt for as many as 140 fighter planes believed to be buried in three sites around the country, with 36 of them supposedly buried close to the runway at Rangoon airport. Armed with mechanical diggers and quite a lot of hope, the 21 archaeologists have spent the past fortnight digging up various holes around the airport looking for the giant crates reportedly housing the planes.

But all the team has found so far is bundles of electric cables and water pipes, a retired Burmese geology professor who has been involved in the Spitfires search told the Associated Press. "We haven’t stopped [searching] and we cannot stop," said Soe Thein. "It is just a delay in our work."

No map exists with details of where exactly the planes might be.

Archaeologists working on the dig as well as a spokesman for Wargaming.net – a video-games firm backing the search – have admitted there are no planes in the spots where they have been digging. However, Cundall – who has spent the past 17 years campaigning to find the Spitfires and is now leading the dig – insists that the excavation teams are looking in the wrong places.

The Spitfire search was green-lighted in October after the Burmese government gave Cundall and his local partner exclusive rights to the three sites believed to house the buried Spitfires. The 62-year-old farmer is said to have begun the hunt for the planes nearly 20 years ago after overhearing American veterans mention that they had buried the planes in Burma.

He has since collected various accounts from eyewitnesses, including both American and British veterans, in order to aid his search, and has been accompanied by 91-year-old Stanley Coombe, who claims he saw planes being buried in 1945, and who flew to Burma from Britain to observe the excavation.

The Spitfire – a single-seat fighter plane – earned worldwide recognition for helping Britain beat back enemy bombers during the war. Some 20,000 were built and today as many as 140 are thought to have been buried in crates in near-pristine condition in various sites around Burma by American engineers in 1945. It is believed that the planes were buried either to get rid of them entirely, or so that they could not be used by Burmese independence fighters.

Around one-third of the 140 planes are believed to be on the grounds of Rangoon airport, where a ground-penetrating radar earlier revealed a heavy concentration of metals. Other Spitfires are said to be in Myitkyina in Kachin state, where another team has been digging but whose hopes of discovery were recently dashed after a buried crate revealed so much muddy water that archaeologists said it would take weeks to pump out.

Cundall has said he aims to restore any Spitfires unearthed in Burma back to flying condition in the UK.

<a href="http://oas.theguardian.com/RealMedia/ads/click_nx.ads/guardianapis.com/world/oas.html/@Bottom" rel="nofollow"> <img src="http://oas.theguardian.com/RealMedia/ads/adstream_nx.ads/guardianapis.com/world/oas.html/@Bottom" alt="Ads by The Guardian" /> </a>

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic


Giant Sand Worm Discovery Proves Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

Simon Fraser University researchers have found evidence that large ambush-predatory worms--some as long as two metres--roamed the ocean floor near Taiwan over 20 million years ago.

Burial Practices Point to an Interconnected Early Medieval Europe

Early Medieval Europe is frequently viewed as a time of cultural stagnation, often given the misnomer of the 'Dark Ages'. However, analysis has revealed new ideas could spread rapidly as communities were interconnected, creating a surprisingly unified culture in Europe.

New Starfish-Like Fossil Reveals Evolution in Action

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have discovered a fossil of the earliest starfish-like animal, which helps us understand the origins of the nimble-armed creature.

Mars Crater Offers Window on Temperatures 3.5 Billion Years Ago

Once upon a time, seasons in Gale Crater probably felt something like those in Iceland. But nobody was there to bundle up more than 3 billion years ago.

Early Humans Used Chopping Tools to Break Animal Bones & Consume the Bone Marrow

Researchers from the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University unraveled the function of flint tools known as 'chopping tools', found at the prehistoric site of Revadim, east of Ashdod.

50 Million-Year-Old Fossil Assassin Bug Has Unusually Well-Preserved Genitalia

The fossilized insect is tiny and its genital capsule, called a pygophore, is roughly the length of a grain of rice.

Dinosaur-Era Sea Lizard Had Teeth Like a Shark

New study identifies a bizarre new species suggesting that giant marine lizards thrived before the asteroid wiped them out 66 million years ago.

The Iron Age Tribes of Britain

The British Iron Age is a conventional name to describe the independent Iron Age cultures that inhabited the mainland and smaller islands of present-day Britain.

Popular stories

The Iron Age Tribes of Britain

The British Iron Age is a conventional name to describe the independent Iron Age cultures that inhabited the mainland and smaller islands of present-day Britain.

The Roman Conquest of Wales

The conquest of Wales began in either AD 47 or 48, following the landing of Roman forces in Britannia sent by Emperor Claudius in AD 43.

Vallum Antonini – The Antonine Wall

The Antonine Wall (Vallum Antonini) was a defensive wall built by the Romans in present-day Scotland, that ran for 39 miles between the Firth of Forth, and the Firth of Clyde (west of Edinburgh along the central belt).

Vallum Aulium – Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall (Vallum Aulium) was a defensive fortification in Roman Britannia that ran 73 miles (116km) from Mais at the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea to the banks of the River Tyne at Segedunum at Wallsend in the North Sea.