Buttala crash: High-level probe on what went wrong

By Damith Wickremasekera

A four member Air Force team will probe Thursday’s crash of an Mi-24 helicopter gunship at Badalkumbura, a spokesman said yesterday. The team comprises Air Vice Marshal Gagan Bulathsinhala, Group Captain Abaya Nanayakkara, Wing Commander Manoj Keppetipola and Squadron Leader Malinda Perera.

The Russian built Mi-24 was one of the Air Force assets used on Thursday for ceremonies connected with the laying of the foundation for a new international airport at Mattala in Hambantota. President Rajapaksa was the chief guest at the event where there was a display of troops parachuting.

The Sri Lanka Air Force helicopter that crashed into a mountain in Badalkumbura, Moneragala, on Friday afternoon, plunged into the jungle in a ball of fire, according to eyewitnesses. All four passengers, including the two pilots and two gunners, were killed. Pix by Sujeewa Kumari
and Sumanasiri Gunatilleke

The investigators have already visited the scene of the crash for a preliminary probe, Air Force spokesperson Janaka Nanayakkara said yesterday. The helicopter, the estimated cost of which is Rs. 1.7 billion, was returning from Tissamaharama through Moneragala when it hit a hill top and plunged into the jungle in a ball of a fire, eyewitnesses told investigators.

The investigation team comprises Air Vice Marshal Gagan Bulathsinhala, Group Captain Abaya Nanayakkara, Wing Commander Manoj Keppitipola and Squadron Leader Malinda Perera.

The pilot and three others, including the two gunners, were killed instantly. They have been identified as Squadron Leader Esala Dodammaluwa, Flight Lieutenant M. R. Fernando, Corporal B.M.C.D. Ratnayake and Corporal Jayaratna Sirisena.

Sources close to the investigators said the weather was clear at that time, and the only apparent conclusion could be that the helicopter had developed a major technical problem that was out of control for the pilots.

Earlier, officials said the helicopter was on a training mission but later confirmed it was returning after an air show in Hambantota district where President Mahinda Rajapaksa laid the foundation for a new international airport.

According to the sources, both pilots had more than 10 years experience and had carried out a large number of sorties against LTTE targets at the height of the war.

Negligence or inefficiency on the part of the pilots could be ruled out since both men were highly reliable navigators, Wing Commander Nanayakkara claimed.

(Additional reporting by Sumanasiri Gunathilaka)

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