Navy skydivers dominate the skies | Sunday Observer

Navy skydivers dominate the skies

For decades the Navy has been synonymous with the ocean. Yet a band of elite men have risen to the challenge and gallantly soared into the domain of the clouds. I was able to meet a few members of the Sri Lanka Navy Skydiving Team, just before they headed off for a practice jump - ahead of the grand Independence Day parade in Colombo.

With 400 parachute jumps to his credit, Commander D.H. Herath is the senior most naval skydiver in active service. The other members of the team include Lt. Cdr. Sagara Lokuge, Lt. Cdr. Prasad Weerasekera, Lt. Cdr. Manjula Wanninayake and Lt.Cdr. Kamal Tissa Kumara. The team also has nine other sailors including Chief Petty Officer Amila Kumarasinghe and Petty Officer Chathuranga Geekiyanage.

The history of naval paratroopers began with a doctor - Lt. Commander Dissanayke is recorded as the first qualified parachutist from the naval ranks.

SBS

It was in 1996 that emphasis was created towards having a formidable parachute element within the Navy and this idea was nursed and sustained by a young officer with an iron will, Lt. Cdr. Ravi Wijegunaratne (presently Admiral and Chief of Defence Staff). He is the founder of the naval Special Boat Squadron (SBS), which made a significant contribution in operating behind enemy lines and had the capacity of amphibious beach assaults. As their magnificent journey progressed the squadron enhanced its capabilities and embraced their parachute skills with determination.

Commander. D.H. Herath explained “most people relate to the Navy as sea borne duties. But we are happy that we have made consistent progress to venture into the skies. All our team members are tough men from the SBS. We already have special skills like sniper, combat diving and EOD (explosive ordinance disposal).

Parachute team

Our parachute team is unique - because we are both combat divers (in water) and take to the sky as parachutist. So we have this rare multi- tasking distinction”.

The team members follow their basic parachute course for six weeks. Before they even sign up for training, potential trainees must jump off a board at a height of 33 feet, into the water. This is done to check their fear of heights. Some have the physical fitness but lack a strong head for heights. You must have a spirit of adventure. During basic training they make five static jumps including one at night.

Lt. Cdr. Sagara Lokuge adds “Once we complete our basic training we have to do another aptitude test to begin training as skydivers. Skydiving as a team is very different from an individual parachute jump. We must be aware of the height as we come down fast - 1000 feet every five seconds. Our height ceiling is indicated by an altimeter. The entire team must exit in seconds, if not we pass the drop zone.

Before we exit the airplane or helicopter we have already planned our aerial formation patterns - known as CRW (canopy relative works). Once the Jump Master orders our exit there is no turning back and no room for error”. As the team members agree it is easy to exit in jumping formation out of a large plane like the C-130 Hercules. The teams have jumped out of an assortment of aircrafts.

The Navy team members have also displayed their prowess at international arenas in Russia, Indonesia and Switzerland as part of the Sri Lanka Skydiving Team which includes members of the Army and Air Force.

Incidentally Commander Hearth is the first Sri Lankan to qualify as a parachute judge. He explained “During international events we must make an accuracy landing - where we zero in on a 16 inch plate. Leaving the aircraft at about 3500 feet can you imagine navigating the wind and coming to land on a 16 inch metal plate? We have done this many times and won”.

The team will propel through the skies carrying the Navy flag along with other military personnel on February 4th.

These valiant young men have invested their time and energy to position naval capability on a whole new realm. They have shown us that nothing is impossible.

Robust female sailors wait for the day when the green light will be given for them to wear the golden wings and join their colleagues in the sky.

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