independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Spitfires search continues - expert

A geology expert hunting for dozens of Spitfires allegedly buried in Burma said he would not give up the search for the Second World War fighter planes after the venture's backers dismissed the theory.

Belarusian global video gaming company Wargaming.net, which funded the high-profile hunt for the Spitfires said on Friday none of the legendary planes was buried in the south-east Asian country.

But the excavation teams carrying out surveys on the ground said on Saturday night that they would not abandon the search and were still conducting surveys near the international airport in Rangoon, Burma's main city, as well as the northern town of Mytikina.

"I am very confident that the planes are buried in both places. Excavation is a time-consuming task, but I strongly believe that we will be able to extract the planes," said Soe Thein, a retired geology professor who has helped in the recovery operation.

Htoo Htoo Zaw, whose company is partnered with British aviation enthusiast David Cundall in the search, said representatives from Wargaming.net left before the survey was complete and could not say definitively whether there were planes or not.

The reputation of the Spitfire, Britain's most famous combat aircraft, was cemented during the Battle of Britain, when the fast-moving single-seater aircraft helped beat back waves of German fighters and bombers. Britain built a total of about 20,000 Spitfires, although the dawn of the jet age at the end of the war meant the propeller planes quickly became obsolete.

The hunt for the lost planes was launched amid hope that as many as 140 rare Spitfires were hidden in crates in pristine condition in three locations in Burma.

But Wargaming.net said on Friday that the planes were never even delivered to the country by Allied forces as the war drew to a close nearly 70 years ago.

"The Wargaming team now believes, based on clear documentary evidence, as well as the evidence from the fieldwork, that no Spitfires were delivered in crates and buried" in Burma between 1945 and 1946, the statement said.

Archival records indicated that the British unit handling shipments at the time received only 37 aircraft, but "none of the crates contained Spitfires and most appear to have been re-exported," said the company, best known for its multiplayer titles including World of Warplanes and World of Tanks. Moreover, "appalling weather" and shortages of heavy equipment and manpower would have made it "almost impossible" to bury the massive crates, the company said.

Press Association

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