Myanmar Spitfire hunters say search has hit snag

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YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Members of an excavation team hunting for dozens of World War II-era British fighter aircraft believed buried at Myanmar's main international airport said Friday that the search will take longer than expected after a survey discovered bundles of electric cables in the way.

A retired Myanmar geology professor who is helping hunt for the rare Spitfires, Soe Thein, said the survey team located wooden crates underground at Yangon airport that could contain the planes.

But cables and water pipes were found above the crates, which will make unearthing them more time-consuming. He said there is no blueprint for the cables' precise locations.

A news conference originally scheduled for Sunday was canceled, apparently because of the snag.

"We haven't stopped and we cannot stop. It is just a delay in our work," Soe Thein said.

There was no word on when crates would finally be unearthed.

The Spitfire won fame for helping Britain beat back waves of enemy bombers during the war, which ended in 1945.

About 20,000 Spitfires were built, although the dawn of the jet age quickly made the propeller-driven, single-seat planes obsolete.

As many as 140 of the planes — three to four times the number of airworthy models known to exist — are believed to have been buried in near-pristine condition in Myanmar by American engineers as the war drew to a close. Of those, 36 are thought to have been buried on the grounds of Yangon's Mingaladon airport, around 100 meters (100 yards) from the runway.

More planes are said to be buried in in Myitkyina in northern Kachin state, where another of the group's teams is digging. Searchers also hit a snag there earlier this month when they found a buried crate unexpectedly full of muddy water, which they said would take weeks to pump out.

British aviation enthusiast David J. Cundall is driving the search for the planes. The go-ahead for excavations came in October when Myanmar's government signed an agreement with Cundall and his local partner.

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