SPITFIRE aircraft buried in Burma at the end of the Second World War are to be returned to the UK, after a 15-year search by an aviation enthusiast.
• Planes were buried by retreating British Army to stop them falling into hands of Japanese
• British farmer led project to find planes and return them home
• Excavation to begin in two weeks after agreement reached between British and Burmese governments
Up to 60 of the iconic planes are believed to have been packed into crates and hidden by British forces to keep them out of the hands of the invading Japanese.
Officials in Burma yesterday signed a deal with a British farmer which will see the aircraft repatriated to the UK.
It is the culmination of a dream for David Cundall, 62, who has been doggedly searching for the planes using radar imaging technology since 1997.
His determination to find the Spitfires led to him spending more than £130,000 on 12 trips to Burma in search of the aircraft, which he finally tracked down in February.
Mr Cundall then contacted Prime Minister David Cameron and asked for his help in getting the planes returned to the UK.
The British Embassy in Rangoon confirmed the agreement had been reached following discussions between Burmese president Thein Sein and Mr Cameron. Excavation work is due to start in the next fortnight.
An Embassy spokesman said the agreement was a chance for the UK to work with Burma’s new reformist government “in uncovering, restoring, displaying these fighter planes”.
He said: “We hope that many of them will be gracing the skies of Britain and as discussed, some will be displayed in Burma.”
Htoo Htoo Zaw, managing director of Burma’s Shwe Taung Paw company, which helped Mr Cundall with his search, said: “This will be the largest number of Spitfires in the world. We estimate that there are at least 60 Spitfires buried and they are in good condition.
“We want to let people see those historic fighters.”
The planes are believed have been hidden up to 40ft underground and are reported as being “in good condition”.
Spitfires played a major part in achieving victory in the Second World War and aviation enthusiasts say the British combat aircraft is the most successful fighter plane ever designed.
More than 20,000 Spitfires were produced, a greater number than any other combat aircraft. They entered RAF service in 1938 and remained in frontline service until 1954.
Spitfires are revered as the planes which won the Battle of Britain in 1940, but there are only 35 still flying.
The Burma 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. Each of them has a price tag of around £1.5 million.
Mr Cundall has said he started his search after receiving a tip-off that the planes had been buried at the end of a runway in Burma in August 1945.
He said: “It has been a struggle. It took me more than 15 years but I finally found them.
“Spitfires are beautiful aeroplanes and should not be rotting away in a foreign land.”
Several of his early trips to Burma were unsuccessful when they were hampered by the political climate in the country.