Airmen’s dive into disaster | Sunday Observer

Airmen’s dive into disaster

On Thursday, Sri Lankans woke up to the shocking news of a Sri Lanka Air Force aircraft carrying four personnel crashing into the hills of Haputale. As images of the aircraft’s charred remains were revealed, all hopes of finding those on board alive were lost. For the Air force which had suffered the loss of four personnel just days before in a road traffic accident, this was yet another tragic incident to face in the new year.

According to the Air Force, the Chinese-built Y-12 turboprop aircraft had taken off from the southern airbase of Weerawila and was on a reconnaissance mission when it crashed around 9.15 am in the Thambipillai area in Haputale. Onboard were its two pilots, Squadron Leader Buddhi Weebedda, Flight Lieutenant Lankapura Kulatunga, observers Sergeant D.W.R.Y Kumara and Leading Aircraftmen N.L.D Hettiarachchi. The incident also left one woman in the area in severe shock.

One female eyewitness report claimed that just moments before the crash, an air force personnel in the aircraft had gestured them to move away as it flew dangerously close to the ground. “I called my children to see the aircraft, and it brushed against a tree nearby as it passed us. I saw one airman gesturing us with his hand, asking us to move away. It then flipped and crashed into another tree near our house,” she told reporters. Another resident in the area told the media how she and her children laid flat on the ground of their home while praying. “We saw the aircraft coming towards our house, and I laid down on the floor with my two children. We thought it would hit us and we prayed to God. It crashed with a loud noise,” she said. The residents had then scrambled to put out the fire before the Police, Army, and crowds reached the spot.

While Squadron Leader Buddhi Weebedda is a father of one. According to family members, 31-year-old Flight Lieutenant Lankapura Kulatunga was to become engaged to be married in March. The two children of Sergeant D.W.R.Y Kumara had just started kindergarten and Grade one at school the day their father’s life was cut short tragically. Their remains were recovered only after a 3 hour long operation on Friday by the forces and the Police.

As the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the air crash try to grapple with the news, the cause for the tragedy remains unknown. A committee appointed by the Air Force has commenced investigations into the incident. According to Air Force Spokesman, Group Captain Gihan Seneviratne, the Court of Inquiry appointed by the Air Force Commander is investigating the incident and will submit its report to the Commander. The Government Analyst’s Department, Civil Aviation Authority and the Department of Meteorology have also been instructed to submit their reports to the Bandarawela Magistrate’s Court while the Haputale Police are also investigating. The postmortems into the deaths were carried out yesterday before their remains were handed to their families.

The two Y-12 aircraft belonging to the Air Force had been used for civilian charter flights as well. However, while the exact cause of the crash remains unclear, the Y-12 continues to be used for both military and civilian use across the world in countries, such as China and Pakistan.