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Sunday, 6 March 2011

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Monath bids his last farewell

He, who braved the skies since 2007, could not touch the ground on this fateful day as usual after the ill-fated training mission. Making the entire nation grieve, he was a youth who always aspired to do his duty towards the nation-Monath bid his last farewell yesterday.


Monath Erash Perera

There were swathes of banners wishing the young hero a good life in his next birth. The country lost another hero who helped to save the lives of thousands of innocent Tamils who were kept as hostages by the ruthless LTTE.

He was fortunate and brave to escape death during the height of the war against terrorism. He had many dreams after he completed his mission - destroying the LTTE. But fate had taken all those dreams away.

“I don’t have anything now. Why has this happened to my son, he is my only child”, mother - Kumari Sumathipala - cried repeatedly.

A picture of the handsome young officer with a charming smile hangs on the wall near the coffin which was sealed. His father M. Chandrasena Perera looked on unable to bear the grief.

It was on March 1st at 9.10 am that the two pilots took off to perform their difficult flypast training mission to display their aerobatic talents the next day at the colourful ceremony of the 60th Anniversary of the Sri Lanka Air Force.

There were over 40 different flights decorating the clear blue sky that morning. The breathtaking sight sounded fearful with the roaring sounds from two Kfir fighter jets of the 10 Jet Squadron of the SLAF.

But sounds of Kfirs lasted for less then 20 minutes and then what people saw was a large ball of fire. The mobile alerts flowed first saying that the two pilots were safe. The unfortunate news about the death of one of them came hours later.

Later the SLAF confirmed that Flight Lieutenant Monath Perera died in the accident, in which the two Kfirs collided in the fly pass training exercise at Yakkala, in the Gampaha district. Squadron Leader Vajira Jayakody who was ejected from the Kfir was hospitalized with minor injuries.

Flypast training exercise

Initially the SLAF said the accident occurred during the flypast training exercise when the two fighter jets were flying at a speed of around 900 kph in a close formation and the wings had touched when taking a turn.

However, the SLAF is tight lipped as the investigation into the accident is on-going. The Sunday Observer spoke to Monath’s best friend Charitha Dayaraja.

From the day Charitha was admitted to grade 1-D of Mahinda College Galle, he was Monath’s best friend until his untimely death.

“ I will never get a friend like Monath”, his voice quivers.

Recalling their school days, Charitha said Mahinda College won the sixth place at the annual competition held at the Rantambe Cadet School in 2000 under the leadership of Monath, who was the Cadet Sergeant of the school.

“ Apart from studies, he participated in extra curricular activities. He was in the basketball team and English drama society. He was the Deputy Head Prefect of the school”, he says.

Being an Audit Assistant Charitha, met his best friend rarely during the government’s humanitarian operation as Monath was engaged in air offensives throughout.

“ He never talks about the targets he took. He said he was so proud as he had taken many accurate targets but he never revealed any”, Charitha says.

According to Charitha, Monath always told his friends to find a job which could give job satisfaction and also a job that serves the nation.

“ I think his happiest day was the day he successfully took the target to destroy LTTE armoury in Pudukudiyrippu. That day he spoke to me and told me the location and the target. It brings back vivid memories.

Fly Israeli built Kfirs

Born in 1982, Monath Erash Perera joined the SLAF in 2004. He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 2005 and promoted as a Flying Officer in 2007, January. Monath first flew the K-8 fighter jets, moved to F-7 in the No. 5 Jet Squadron and then joined the No. 10 Attack Jet Squadron to fly the Israeli built Kfirs.

He had completed 450 flying hours and done 75 operational sorties during the humanitarian operation.

Flight Lt. Monath was promoted posthumously to the rank of Squadron Leader cause of his contribution to the humanitarian operation.

The SLAF Commander Air Marshal Harsha Abeywickrema appointed a five-member committee to probe the incident.

According to SLAF spokesman Group Captain Andrew Wijesooriya the Committee headed by Air Vice Marshal Kapila Jayampathi would submit its final report in 14-days. Wijesooriya, who refused to disclose further details of the incident as the investigation was going on, said the committee had commenced its investigations from the day the incident took place and it would look into the causes of the accident.

The report by the Judicial Medical Officer Dr. Channa Perera revealed that Monath’s death was due to a heart attack which had occurred after he ejected from the jet.

The report was handed over to the SLAF Commander.

Medical check-ups

Refusing to comment on the JMO report, SLAF Commander Air Marshal Abeywickrema said Monath was in good health and his death was due to the midair crash.

The SLAF spokesman said all Air Force pilots undergo annual medical check-ups and a doctor would check pilots after each sortie.“Monath was in good health and fit for flying”, he said.The Kfir, Israeli-built all-weather, multi-role combat aircrafts, with a maximum speed of 2.440 kph, are fighter jets of the Sri Lanka Air Force No. 10 Fighter Squadron which was established in 1996.

The Kfir jets played a vital role by providing offensive support for ground troops during the humanitarian operation in 2009.

All Kfir fighter jets of the SLAF have been grounded until the investigation into incident is over.

According to sources the estimated loss of the two Kfir jets is over US $ 10 million.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who rushed to the crash site had instructed the SLAF to meet the funeral expenses.

Addressing the nation on March 2 at the SLAF celebrations the President paid his condolences to Monath’s family and said lives like those of Monath was more valuable than expensive military assets.

“We should never forget the airmen who sacrificed their lives and also the pilot who sacrificed his life on Tuesday while rehearsing for the anniversary. Our sympathies go out to his family and all the families who sacrificed their loved ones to protect the motherland”, he said.

“ The life of a war hero is more valuable to the nation than a heap of metal”, the President said.

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