The difficult task of locating and excavating dozens of British Spitfires that were buried in the Burmese jungle during the Second World War is to get underway on Saturday.
The British team, which is due to fly from London to Southeast Asia, is charged with finding the unused and unassembled aircraft which are believed to have been hidden in crates and buried in 1945 as the war drew to a close.
David Cundall attends a meeting with assembled press at the Hilton Hotel before flying to Burma
Some 36 planes are thought to be lying undiscovered in Mingaladon - one of three potential sites in the country - with as many 124 Spitfires buried in total.
Farmer and aviation enthusiast David Cundall, from Lincolnshire, is spearheading the dig, having spent 17 years and thousands of pounds researching the project.
Speaking at Heathrow Airport's Hilton Hotel, he described plans to return the Spitfires to Britain for restoration to allow them to be flown again.
"I think this is on the same level as the Tutankhamun find in Egypt", Cundall said.
"If we're successful, I'd like to repeat what archaeologist Howard Carter said then. Lord Carnarvon asked: 'Can you see anything?', and he replied: 'Yes, wonderful things'.
"There's lot of rumours about why they were buried but the common theory is that they were buried after the war - in August and December 1945 - because they were surplus to requirements. Somebody gave the order, let's dig a hole and let's bury them.
Andy Brockman project archaeologist of the attempt to dig up and recover the Spitfire planes
"They will be restored to flying condition and hopefully they'll be flying in about three years time at air shows, and promoting British industry as well."
The 21-strong excavation team will include British war veteran Stanley Coombe, from Eastbourne, who responded to Cundall's appeal for witnesses who saw the Mark XIV Spitfires being buried 68 years ago.
Coombe, who is now in his early 90s, was stationed in Burma at the end of the Second World War and is one of eight eye-witnesses to come forward.
The planes are believed to be buried some 25 to 30 feet below the ground, and Cundall believes they may have been protected from erosion due to a lack of oxygen under ground.
Project archaeologist Andy Brockman said: "The archaeological team are treating this like a police mystery. We've got a missing person, we've got a crime scene, and at the end we'll hopefully have the evidence to base a case to say what actually happened at Mingaladon in 1945."
Wargaming.net is providing financial support for the hunt, which is hoped will unearth the first Spitfire in about two weeks.
Dozens of Spitfire fighter planes buried by the British almost 70 years ago
The contract allowing the dig to go ahead will see the Burmese Government take 50% of the value of aircraft recovered, while Cundall's share will be 30% and his agent 20%.
It followed a meeting between Prime Minister David Cameron and Burmese president Thein Sein earlier this year.
Cundall added: "I've written to the Prime Minister, he's been wonderful.
"He went over to Burma to speak to the president about the Spitfires and also the trade sanctions which were lifted. That allowed me to negotiate with the president and I can't thank him enough."
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