Myanmar Spitfire hunter still optimistic

An archaeologist involved in a search for dozens of rare Spitfire planes said to have been buried in Myanmar played down doubts Friday about the existence of the rumoured trove.

The BBC reported that the British-led team believes that no planes are buried at the locations where they have been hunting in the northern city of Myitkyina and Yangon airport, a wartime airfield, in the Mingaladon district.

The team's leader had previously said he believed that dozens of the iconic single-seat aircraft were buried in 1945 by Britain, the former colonial power in what was then Burma.

But local geophysicist Soe Thein, who has been involved in the search for more than a decade, said he remained optimistic, pointing to the recent discovery of a crate buried in the ground at the site in Myitkyina.

"I am sure what we found in Myitkyina is a Spitfire. We are still trying to search in Mingaladon," he told AFP.

The team said last week that it was unable to determine the contents of the crate by inserting a camera because of murky water obscuring the visibility.

A local businessman involved in the project, Htoo Htoo Zaw, also distanced himself from the report on the BBC website, which quoted project leader David Cundall as saying that the team might be looking in the wrong place.

"We are still doing surveys and haven't started the digging yet. We can't say anything yet," Htoo Htoo Zaw said.

Issues such as dealing with modern-day obstacles such as underground electricity cables have delayed the actual excavation.

Confusion about the project deepened after Cundall -- a farmer and aircraft enthusiast who has spent 17 years chasing the rumoured Spitfires -- cancelled a press conference that had been planned for Friday.

Cundall could not immediately be contacted for comment. A spokesman for Wargaming.net, the video game company providing financial backing for the project, did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.

There are thought to be fewer than 50 airworthy Spitfires left in the world and the prospect of finding a new haul has excited military history and aviation enthusiasts around the world.

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