Fatal aircrash at Kantale | Sunday Observer

Fatal aircrash at Kantale

27 December, 2020

Trainee Officer Cadet, Shalinda Vimukthi Bandara Amarakoon had always dreamt of soaring above the skies. As a child he had often told his mother, Shiranthi Mapitigama that he wanted to fly and be free, just like a bird. The constant talk of wanting to be like a bird had even earned him the childhood nickname Kurulla (Bird) coined by Shiranthi.

To others, 23-year-old Shalinda born to former Kegalle municipal councilor Saman Kumara Amarakoon and Shiranthi Kumari Mapitigama of Aluth Walauwa in Ruwanwella was simply ‘Shali’. A past pupil of Kegalu Maha Vidyalaya, Shalinda had not only excelled in his studies but had also displayed great talent in chess, badminton, and cricket. Despite gaining university entrance his undying passion and love for flying had led him straight to the Sri Lanka Air Force.?

The youngest of three siblings, Shalinda followed his childhood dream to fly and joined the Sri Lanka Air force (SLAF) as a Trainee Officer cadet on January 27, 2019. He would often call his two older sisters and describe all his new experiences in the SLAF in vivid detail.?

“He often said flying an aircraft was an exhilarating experience” his sister Udara Awanthi Amarakoon said. Udara describes her brother as someone who was always responsible. “Even as a child he would never burden anyone else,’’ she said, adding that he was the light of his family.?

Having passed the hurdle of joining the Air Force, Shalinda had undergone a six-month training at the SLAF Diyatalawa training school, following which he had joined the Air Force Pilot Training Course in China Bay, Trincomalee.?

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On that fateful Tuesday (15) Shalinda was to complete his 85th flight training mission. With already 90 hours of flying under his belt he was just shy of four flight training missions to complete the course. Thus,around 1.05 pm on the day, Shalinda took off from the No1 Flying Training Wing at the SLAF Academy, China Bay in a PT-6 training aircraft for a solo training mission. But just 10 minutes into the flight all radio communication between the PT-6 and the air traffic control tower would cease.?

Crash

A resident of Suriyapura, Kantalai, D.P Weerasinghe describes what happened next. Seated in a thatched hut in the paddy field belonging to him Gunasinghe said he heard a loud noise around 1.15 pm from the Janaranjana reservoir area. “It sounded like thunder,” Weerasinghe said. “I then saw something that looked like a plane gliding to the ground at great speed before it crashed,” he added. Weerasinghe and other witnesses from the area had rushed to the scene. “There was one person in the aircraft but he appeared to be dead,” he recalled.?

For reasons unknown yet, the aircraft flown by Trainee Officer Cadet, Shalinda Amarakoon had crashed near the Janaranjana reservoir. Stuck in the mangled aircraft it took rescue workers nearly three hours to rescue Shalinda from the debris.

Airlifted to the District General Hospital, Trincomalee, Shalinda was declared dead on arrival, sadly ending his dream to become a fully-fledged SLAF pilot.?

As his family and his loved ones mourned his untimely death, the SLAF on the directions of its Commander, Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana appointed a five-member Board of Investigation to identify the cause of the crash that killed Trainee Officer Cadet, Shalinda Amarakoon.

The Board led by an Air Commodore which also includes two SLAF aeronautical engineers has already commenced the probe. The Police too led by the DIG in charge of the Eastern province, Roshan Fernando, is conducting their own investigation into the accident.?

On the day, Shalinda had been flying a Chinese manufactured PT- 6 training aircraft purchased by the SLAF during the tenure of former Air Force Commander, Air Cheif Marshal Kapila Jayampathi in October 2018.

At the time six brand new PT-6 aircraft were purchased from the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) for primary training of the SLAF at a cost of USD 5 million.?

PT-6

The PT-6 has been widely used by China’s Air Force and also in the military by other countries such as Albania, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ecuador, Laos, Tanzania, Zambia, and Sri Lanka.

The plane is also popular among civilians in some countries as a hobby plane including in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and South Africa.

According to sources, there is speculation that the accident had occurred due to engine failure. However, according to the SLAF, it would only be able to confirm the cause of the accident following a thorough investigation by the Board appointed.

According to protocol, the SLAF has grounded the remaining PT-6 planes pending the conclusion of the probe.?The plane had crashed into a canal on the left bank of the Mahaweli River. Officials at the scene said it was clear that the pilot had attempted to land the plane with minimal damage to the lives of others and property.?

His sister Udara said hearing the news of the accident, the family had been determined to provide him with the best health care possible to ensure his recovery. “We never thought he would leave us this way. He was so innocent and would harm no one.” Udara said. His family believes that true to his character, Shalinda in his last moments had tried his level best to land safely to avoid causing harm or injury to anyone else. “He died while doing what he loves. Though he is no more, the hero of our home has now become the hero of the whole country,” she added.?

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