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DateLine Sunday, 11 May 2008





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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 could swim.

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 ferrying ammunition.


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 beforehand.

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 his death.

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 Army.

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 Wing Commander.

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 Squadron Leader.


Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Ceylinco Banyan Villas

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