AN operation to excavate dozens of British Spitfires buried in Burma during the Second World War is set to begin next year.
It marks the climax of a 16-year search for the lost aircraft by North Lincolnshire farmer and aircraft enthusiast David Cundall.
Mr Cundall, 63, has poured tens of thousands of pounds into the venture – he says he stopped counting when the cost hit £130,000 – and hopes the recovered aircraft can be restored and eventually returned to flight.
He believes Lord Mountbatten, who was Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia theatre, ordered the burial of 36 Spitfires in 1945 at the Mingaladon airfield, a major British base in Burma, as the Second World War was drawing to a close.
And now, following the suspension of European Union sanctions on Burma which David Cameron called for in April, a dig to find the lost planes is finally due to begin in January.
Speaking before the announcement yesterday, Mr Cundall said: “It is the biggest project I have ever taken on in my life.
“I did not realise it would take 16 years or quite a large amount of personal money. But I do not regret it.
“I have always admired the Spitfire. It has a very special place in British history, from the Battle of Britain. To find one Spitfire would be a major find, let alone 36.”
Mr Cundall first heard of the story of the burial in 1996 and travelled to Burma to corroborate the rumours with eyewitnesses.
An electronic scan on the site in 2004 revealed some material of “high electrical conductivity” buried between 30ft and 50ft below the ground.
Mr Cundall insists he is “100 per cent confident” that the objects detected below are the missing Spitfires.