Mystery Of Missing Air Force Aircraft Resolved
By Camelia Nathaniel
The wreckage of the helicopter found and recovered off Chalai by the Sri Lanka Navy was inspected by a specialist nominated by the Commander of the Air Force at KKS and was identified as the SLAF Mi 24 Helicopter CH 614 which went missing in March 1997.
The helicopter crashed with all on board and it was believed to have been shot down by enemy fire. This was later confirmed by Intelligence Sources.
At the time of the crash, the helicopter was captained by Flying Officer A. Malalasekera. The remaining crew comprising two Russians Major Wowa Miller (Co Pilot), Major Y Romanov (Engineer), and Air Gunners LAC Arunashantha and LAC Samarakoon PT, and passengers, Flight Lieutenant PHA Senasinghe, Corporal Nandasena SPL and LAC Liyanage were also believed to have perished in the crash.
According to high ranking military sources, these helicopters known as battle tankers, usually travel in pairs. On this fateful day, two Mi 24 helicopters were travelling from Palali to Hingurakgoda for maintenance. They were not on combat mission, and it was proven that the helicopter was carrying passengers who were returning home on vacation.
Usually these type of aircrafts keep in touch regularly at around five minute intervals as the pilot is unable to see the rear of the aircraft. However around the Adampillai area in the Mullaitivu area the pilot of the first aircraft had not received a response via a radio message from the pilot of the helicopter travelling behind. He had then turned the aircraft and circled the area but found no trace of the aircraft. Upon contacting the control centre, the surviving pilot was instructed to return to Hingurakgoda as it was not safe due to enemy presence in the area.
These air force helicopters usually travelled at low altitude off the coastal area due to the threat of missile attacks at the time. However, at the time the Air Force had not confirmed that the aircraft was shot down by enemy fire as there was no debris to be found. Moreover, although they had a rough idea of the location the aircraft had disappeared, there was no concrete evidence to suggest that it had plunged into the sea, which also led to numerous speculations at the time.
With the discovery of the bodies of the two air gunners which were recovered sometime after the crash, having washed ashore on the coast of India, it gave rise to the possibility of the aircraft having crashed into sea. But this theory too was not confirmed due to the fact that the gunners usually sit near the door of the aircraft and it was possible that they could have fallen off. Meanwhile the bodies were handed over to the respective next of kin and the funeral parade were carried out with full military honours.
However, recently some fishermen near the Chalai coast had reported to the Navy that pieces of an aircraft had been caught in their fishing nets. They had handed them over to the Navy. The Navy, based on the evidence presented to them, had commenced their search for the missing aircraft and successfully recovered the remains of the ill-fated helicopter
This helicopter was inducted into the SLAF Fleet in November of 1996. Although the parts of the helicopter were recovered, no human remains have been found at the site of the wreckage which had undergone severe deterioration due to long term exposure to seawater.
Meanwhile, the confirmation that the aircraft reported missing had in fact been shot down by the LTTE came when the Army had recovered the tube of a surface-to-air missile (SAM) in Dharmapuram on the 11th of March 2009. The SAM tube contained the date, time of the attack and target of the missile. But even though the SAM tube was discovered the military did not have any evidence of the exact location of the missing aircraft until they discovered it recently.