Dogfight Brewing Over Burmese Spitfires

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British farmer and aviation history buff David Cundall now says there are 124 new Spitfires buried in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and he knows where 60 of them are. As we reported two weeks ago, Cundall stunned the aviation world with news that he had found at least 20 crated, brand-new Spitfires wrapped in protective paper and tar to preserve them. Whether he'll be able to capitalize on his stunning discovery is in question, however, as treasure hunters from all over the world race against each other and the impending monsoon season to dig the pickled aircraft up. In an email exchange a week ago, Cundall told AVweb he was having problems with financial backers who now may be rivals for the treasure trove. Cundall has not returned subsequent email and phone messages from AVweb. He did, however, claim in an interview with the Independent that a British businessman is trying to hijack the project with the help of the country's prime minister.

Cundall told AVweb he had originally struck a deal with an American backer to fund the recovery of the aircraft but it fell through. He was then approached by Steve Boultbee Brooks, a land developer and aviation buff who owns a two-seat Spitfire. He alleges Boultbee Brooks, who accompanied Prime Minister David Cameron on a trade and political mission to Myanmar two weeks ago, used his attendance on the trip to engineer discussions between Cameron and Myanmar President Thein Sein on repatriation of the aircraft. Brooks does indeed appear to be assuming a lead role in digging up the planes.

In an email to AVweb, Brooks' public relations consultant Elizabeth Tagge declined an interview but said there will soon be public access to news on the effort. "The team is entirely focused on the next stage of the project at this point and won't be giving interviews just yet," Tagge said. "However, there should be a Facebook page up soon, which we'll update when there is news to help keep everyone aware of progress."

Meanwhile, Brooks himself told the Independent that he hopes Cundall will be "on board" with the recovery effort. Cundall says he'll be involved all right, as the holder of all the important cards in a high-stakes game that involves cutting the Myanmar government in for 40 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the aircraft. "We were issued a permit to dig, which is still a valid and exclusive agreement," he said. "The President of Burma wants to do business with me." Cundall said he has a buyer who will take all the aircraft at about $1.5 million each. Boultbee Brooks said it would be a shame for the aircraft to end up anywhere but Britain and he noted there are other groups in the U.S., Israel and Australia hoping to claim the aircraft. "What a terrible day this is when the prime minister has gone out and got a British team, we put a British team together, and then we squabble so much that we allow other nations to walk in and take the Spitfires from under our noses," he said.