End of the Road for Burma Spitfire Hunt?

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A Spitfire in flight

It’s taken 15 years, an international team of experts, political wrangling and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But the search for a squadron of British World War II fighter planes thought to be buried in Burma seems to have ended in disappointment as archaeologists involved in the search admitted that the planes probably don’t exist, reports the Daily Telegraph.

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British farmer David Cundall, who began the project after hearing a group of war veterans say that they helped bury Spitfires in Burma in 1945, said the archaeologists had been looking in the wrong place.

It was thought that as many as 140 Spitfires — many more than the number of airworthy models currently known to exist – were buried in crates 40ft below the ground in the last days of the war to make sure they didn’t fall into the wrong hands. Mr. Cundall had claimed that some of the aircraft could possibly even fly again, and compared his quest to the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

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In addition to $200,000 of his own money, he managed to secure funding for the search from a Belarusian online gaming company and had to overcome acres of bureaucratic red tape. It took a meeting between Burmese President Thein Sein and British Prime Minister David Cameron to secure permission to dig for the planes underneath the former capital Rangoon’s international airport.

British 91-year-old war veteran Stanley Coombe, who says he witnessed the aircraft being buried near what is now the airport’s main runway, was on hand to watch the closing stages of the search, reports the Daily Mail. But a planned celebratory press conference was cancelled after the archaeologists said they had found no evidence of buried planes, while Burmese officials worried that continued digging could damage the runway. “Today has been a nightmare,” one team member told the Daily Mail.

Mr. Cundall will now look to other possible burial sites in the north of Burma, reports the Independent. Earlier this month, the search team found a wooden crate believed to contain one of the planes in the northern Kachin state, but it turned out to be full of muddy water.

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