Buried Treasure: World War II Spitfires to Be Unearthed in Burma

Paging Indiana Jones: a British farmer's 15-year quest to find a squadron of legendary fighter planes buried in a far-off land has finally paid off

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Michael Dunning/Getty Images

A Spitfire in flight

It’s like something out of an Indiana Jones film, if you take away the religious overtones and ophidiophobic adventurer. After 15 years, a British farmer’s quest to find a squadron of legendary fighter planes lost in Burma during World War II has finally paid off.

Lincolnshire farmer David Cundall, 62, has spent about $207,000, traveled to Burma a dozen times and negotiated with the cagey Burmese government, all in the hopes of finding a stash of iconic British Spitfires buried somewhere in the Southeast Asian country.

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Buried planes? It sounds odd, but in fact this was fairly common toward the end of the war; as the conflict wound down and jet aircraft promised to make propeller-driven fighters obsolete, many aircraft were scrapped, buried or sunk by Allied Forces in order to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.

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Cundall started his search after his friend heard from a group of U.S. veterans that they had stashed Spitfires in the region. “We’ve done some pretty silly things in our time, but the silliest was burying Spitfires,” the veterans said.

His interest piqued, Cundall began placing ads in magazines to try to find soldiers who might have been involved.

After a decade and a half of searching, he finally managed to locate the missing airplanes, which had never been flown and were indeed buried while still in their transport crates. “We sent a borehole down and used a camera to look at the crates. They seemed to be in good condition,” Cundall told the Telegraph.

The aircraft arrived at a Royal Air Force base in Burma in August 1945. But by that point in the war, just before the bombing of Hiroshima, the fighters weren’t needed. “In 1945, Spitfires were ten a penny,” said Cundall. “It was a typical British solution: ‘Let’s bury them lads.’”

Getting the planes out of the ground is one thing; getting them out of Burma — a secretive nation that until recently was ruled by a brutal military junta and remains under a variety of international sanctions — is another. But as the Telegraph reports, following the intervention of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who recently visited the country, the Spitfires could soon be on their way back to the U.K.

Cundall hopes that with the help of investors, the planes can finally take to the skies. “Spitfires are beautiful airplanes and should not be rotting away in a foreign land. They saved our neck in the Battle of Britain and they should be preserved.”

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