YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar signed a deal with a British aviation enthusiast to allow the excavation of a World War II treasure: dozens of Spitfire fighter planes reportedly buried by the British almost 70 years ago.
Aviation enthusiast David J. Cundall said earlier this year he had found the aircraft after years of searching and they were believed to be in excellent condition.
While details of their reported burial are obscure, Cundall has said they were shipped to the then-British colony called Burma near the end of the war and abandoned unused and in packing cases when they were not needed.
Aviation enthusiasts say only three dozen or so airworthy Spitfires still exist worldwide. The single-seat fighter planes were about 9.1 meters (30 feet) long with an 11.2-meter (37-foot) wingspan. The wings may not have been attached to the packed planes.
The British Embassy said Wednesday that the agreement was reached after discussions between Myanmar President Thein Sein and British Prime Minister David Cameron during his visit to Myanmar earlier this year.
The excavation is to begin by the end of October.
The Myanma Ahlin daily reported that the excavation agreement was signed Tuesday by Director General of Civil Aviation Tin Naing Tun, Cundall on behalf of his British company DJC, and Htoo Htoo, managing director of Cundall's Myanmar partner, the Shwe Taung Paw company.
"It took 16 years for Mr. David Cundall to locate the planes buried in crates. We estimate that there are at least 60 Spitfires buried and they are in good condition," Htoo Htoo Zaw said.
"This will be the largest number of Spitfires in the world," he said. "We want to let people see those historic fighters, and the excavation of these fighter planes will further strengthen relations between Myanmar and Britain."
The British Embassy described the agreement as a chance to work with Myanmar's new reformist government to restore and display the planes.
"We hope that many of them will be gracing the skies of Britain and as discussed, some will be displayed here in Burma," said an embassy spokesman, who spoke anonymously because he was not directly involved in the excavation agreement.
The country gained independence from Britain after the war and was long ruled by its military, which changed the name to Myanmar in 1989. Thein Sein's reformist government has turned away from the repression of the military government and patched up relations with Western nations that had previously shunned it.
Myanma Ahlin cited Transport Minister Nyan Tun Aung saying the agreement was a milestone strengthening the friendly relationship between Myanmar and Britain and amounts to the British government's recognition of the democratic reforms.
Cundall has said his quest to find the planes involved 12 trips to Myanmar and the expenditure of more than 130,000 pounds ($210,000).