YANGON: A British-led excavation team hunting for dozens of rare Spitfires in Myanmar said Wednesday they were confident about recovering the World War II-era planes after finding a crate buried in the ground.
Project leader David Cundall, who has compared the rumoured hoard to the 1922 discovery of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun's tomb, said a box found in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina appeared to contain man-made objects.
The researchers have inserted a camera into the crate although they have so far been unable to confirm the contents because of muddy water obscuring visibility.
"That's very encouraging. That's the sort of image that I would expect to find. We've gone into a box, but we have hit this water problem. It's murky water and we can't really see very far," Cundall said at a press conference in Yangon.
He said he was "very optimistic" about the team's chances of success and better photographic evidence could be available within weeks.
Britain, the former colonial power in what was then Burma, is thought to have buried the brand new planes in 1945 as they were surplus by the time they arrived by sea.
The 21-strong team believe there could be 36 of the iconic single-seat British fighter aircraft in sealed crates up to 10 metres (33 feet) beneath Yangon airport, a wartime airfield, in the Mingaladon district of the city.
Cundall said the team believed there were a further 18 in Myitkyina and six in central Meiktila, based on eyewitness accounts and earlier surveys.
"I'm confident that we will find Spitfires either at Mingaladon or Myitkyina," he said.
There are thought to be fewer than 50 airworthy Spitfires left in the world and the digs, which have excited military history and aviation enthusiasts around the world, could potentially double their number.
Cundall said a survey was currently being undertaken at Yangon airport to ensure there are no modern-day obstacles like electricity cables and the team hopes to begin excavation within days.
If successfully excavated, some of the Spitfires are expected to be returned to Britain, which ruled Myanmar until independence in 1948.