Salvage operation under enemy fire
Wing Commander Tyron Silvapulle
Flying Officer Chinthaka De Soysa
December 1999 marked the beginning of the ‘Unceasing waves’ of the
LTTE. Killinochchi was captured and they were moving on to Paranthan.
Air Force ground troops were stationed at the Paranthan FDL to provide
land support for the Army troops and the Air Force aircraft were on the
ready at Palali Air Force base to provide air cover.
On December 17, MI 24 CH-618 was dispatched under the command of
Squadron Leader Tyron Silvapulle with Flying Officer Chinthaka Prashan
De Soysa as the co-pilot and two other gunners to provide close air
support to the Army troops deployed at the FLD in Vettilaikerny lagoon.
Date: December 18, 1999
Time: 0700 hours
Location: Air Force Camp, Palali FDL
“I was having my breakfast when I heard the sirens.” Flying Officer
S. P. V. K. Senadheera recalled, who had joined the Air Force with the
11th intake of the KDA (Kotalawala Defence Academy) in 1993 and
graduated as a Cadet Officer in 1995.
He was posted to China Bay and was trained at Diyatalawa the same
year and commissioned in 1996. He was deployed in the Air Force FDL,
during the “Jayasikuru Operation” , as a Squadron Commander of the
Regiment Field Squadron. Vajira Senadheera is married to a sister of an
Air Force officer.
The sirens are normally sounded to indicate an air crash. “I was not
told of any specific details at that time.” But later, on inquiry, he
learned that MI 24 CH-618 - which was piloted by Squadron Leader Tyron
Silvapulle, co-piloted by Flying Officer Chinthaka Prashan De Soysa and
carried the two gunners - was hit by an enemy missile and had crashed
into the no man’s land of Vettilaikerni lagoon.
It was immediately decided to deploy ten people, for the rescue
operation, under the leadership of Flying Officer Vajira Senadheera
along with a team of ten technicians led by Flying Officer Thotahevage.
An MI 17 was ready to airlift them to the Army camp at Elephant Pass.
0830 hrs: They were provided with a dinghy by the Army, on arrival at
the Elephant Pass Camp, but the entire team of more than twenty could
not be accommodated. “ So, I selected one gunner and Flying Officer
Thotahevage selected three from the technical crew.” All the men who
0845 hrs: The crash site was in Thamilmadam, a small island in the no
man’s land of the lagoon. It had rained heavily for several days forcing
the lagoon to swell. The LTTE Sea Tigers operating in the FDL had
monitored the dinghy boat and commenced fire. The Army counter-attacked
with artillery and mortar from the main land. The whole team was fully
soaked by the time they reached the crash site.
The wreck was half submerged in water, requiring assistance of two
Naval divers for the salvage. The LTTE tried to reach the island but
were not able to, due to repulsive attcks by the Army.
It was clear that there were no survivors but there were still some
vital components, in the MI 24, that needed extraction and meanwhile the
bodies were moved to the Elephant Pass Army camp by boat.
1030 hrs: It was still raining heavily and the LTTE action had
considerably lessened when the team moved into their second mission -
retrieving the vital parts of the helicopter. Subsequently the wreck was
blown up with the assistance of the Army Demolition Unit.
1700 hrs: The team was able to reach Elephant Pass camp, with the
salvaged items, despite continuous shelling by LTTE Sea Tigers. They
spent the night at the Iyakachchi SL Light Infantry Camp due to bad
weather. That very night Paranthan was captured by the LTTE.
Date: December 19, 1999
Time: 0700 hours
Location: SL Light Infantry Camp, Iyakachchi
Although Flying Officer Vajira Senadheera contacted the Palali Base
and requested for an MI 17, due to the large volume of casualties
arriving from Paranthan, the team had to give priority to the
transportation of casualties and to let the MI 17 be used for that
purpose, time and again. Finally they returned safely to Palali Air
Force Base, with the salvaged items, by land on Army trucks which were
Squdron Leader Vajira Senadheera, briefing airmen
The two pilots Squadron Leader Tyron Silvapulle and Flying Officer
Chinthaka Prashan De Soysa were brave pilots, deployed on many sorties
to assist the Army troops at the Paranthan FDL and many other attacks
According to his colleagues, Squadron Leader Tyron Silvapulle was an
extremely dedicated pilot. Enlisted on May 18, 1986, he flew literally
round-the-clock ‘morning, noon and night’, on countless missions, until
According to one of his batchmates “he was a professional pilot, a
genuine, down-to-earth person, who was serious about his job as a pilot.
He was concerned about the guys in the field, his colleagues in the
A product of St Joseph’s College, he served continuously in the
northern and eastern fronts since the day he joined the service with the
16th Intake. He has flown Bell 212, MI 17 and MI 24 helicopters.” He was
married and his wife was expecting a child at the time of his death.
He had won several awards to his credit. In addition to all the
standard campaign Medals, he was awarded Rana Wickrama and Rana Sura
Gallantry Medals in 1994. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of
According to one of his flying instructors, who himself was an MI 24
pilot, Flying Officer Chinthaka Prashan De Soysa, who was enlisted on
January 07, 1997, was a very soft spoken guy, very well mannered with
very good piloting skills. He was a born pilot.
That was why he was posted to MI 24 by-passing the usual stint at
flying Bell 212. He was the youngest pilot in the squadron at the time
of his demise.
Flying Officer Vajira Senadheera, who had won many other awards for
bravery while serving in the North and East was awarded a Rana Sura
Medal in 2008 for salvaging sensitive material from the wreck,
preventing them from falling in to enemy hands. He was later promoted a