YANGON, Myanmar — A British aviation enthusiast searching for scores of World War II-era Spitfire fighter planes he believes are buried in Myanmar said Tuesday he will continue his quest even though his main sponsor has backed out.
David Cundall told reporters that he is confident of enough funding to continue his search despite the withdrawal of the Belarusian video gaming company Wargaming.net. The company said last Friday it believes the planes don't really exist and descriptions of their burial by Allied forces as the war drew to a close nearly 70 years ago are a myth.
Cundall contends that as many as 140 Spitfires may have been buried in near-pristine condition in Myanmar. No traces of any were found in digging that began in December, but Cundall said he hopes to have good news in two weeks when the searchers finish surveying.
He said they are waiting for a specialized company from Europe to use ground-penetrating radar that will show the shape and depth of buried objects.
Cundall said Wargaming "couldn't wait that long."
"I'm still confident to find Spitfires," he said. "I believe in eyewitnesses."
The Spitfire helped Britain beat back waves of German bombers during the war that ended in 1945 and remains the most famous British combat aircraft. About 20,000 Spitfires were built, although the dawn of the jet age quickly made the propeller-driven, single-seat planes obsolete.
Wargaming said in a statement that its team "now believes, based on clear documentary evidence, as well as the evidence from the fieldwork, that no Spitfires were delivered in crates and buried" in Myanmar between 1945 and 1946.
It said archival records indicated that the British unit handling shipments at the time received only 37 aircraft, but "none of the crates contained Spitfires and most appear to have been re-exported."
Moreover, "appalling weather" and shortages of heavy equipment and manpower would have made it "almost impossible" to bury the massive crates, the company said.
Cundall accused Wargaming of getting involved in the search "for publicity."
"They are not Spitfire enthusiasts at all. ... After a few days, Wargaming said they wanted to go and leave. I'm here to find Spitfires and we have ample funding without Wargaming," Cundall said. "There is no shortage of money."
Cundall said funding for the search came from his own resources as well as other financiers. When he first announced the excavation plans last year, he said his quest to find the planes involved 12 trips to Myanmar and an expenditure of more than 130,000 pounds ($210,000).
The search kindled some excitement in early January when an excavation team in northern Myanmar said it found a wooden crate with unknown contents full of muddy water. It was eventually found to contain wood paneling and fence posts.
"We never said it was a Spitfire, we just said it was an object of interest," declared Cundall. "This is the nature of the business. We are looking for something like a needle in the haystack."