It was Christmas 2009. I was going through the Colombo newspapers on the Internet. I could not believe my eyes. Tears ran down my cheeks. I cried for several minutes. It was about Captain Panchalingam Nadarajah, fondly known as Panch to his friends and as Captain Nada to his colleagues at Air Ceylon. He had passed away on December 24.
I called the telephone number given in the obituary and spoke to his sons, Thaj and Nandha.
I came to know Captain Nada when I joined Air Ceylon, back in 1972. Eight months later I started working in the Flight Operations Department.
Words fail to describe what a nice, friendly, honest man Captain Nada was. His roots were in the North, and he came from a good family. He and his wife raised five sons, and all of them followed in their father’s footsteps, excelling in the field of aviation. Thaj and Nandha are both flying as captains, as I believe the others are, except for the last son, who did aeronautical engineering.
When I came to know Capt. Nada, he had been flying the DC-3 (Dakota) and the Avro-HS 748 aircraft as captain for a long time. Later, after lots of politics, the late Capt. Aussie, Capt. L. B. de Silva and Capt. Nada were trained to fly the Trident-Jet Aircraft-HS 121 as captains.
When the then operations manager, Capt. Ferdie, resigned over policy matters, Capt. Nada was appointed as operations manager. I worked very closely with him on crew rosters and other aspects of the Operations Department. I have only pleasant memories of working with him. Often, on arriving in the office, he would put his hand on my shoulder and say “Machang”, and ask how everything was in the department, and talk about this and that.
In a country where, and at a time when, aircraft pilots were regarded as demigods, Capt. Nada remained firmly a very down-to-earth person. What impressed me was his calmness and quietness. He never got angry with anyone who worked with him, and he was never bothered by what people might be saying of him. He believed in doing what was right, and he did it.
I vividly remember a couple of incidents during his time at Air Ceylon.
In 1975 or 1976, an Operations Department colleague, G. A. Fernando (GAF), now Capt. Fernando, wanted his flying log book certified for his Air Transport Pilot Licence (APTL) exam by the Operations Manager. The two of us took a bus from Borella to the Operations Manager’s house in Layard’s Road, Bambalapitiya.
We were wondering how he would respond to us visiting his home, but he was very cordial. He made us comfortable and signed the log book for Mr. Fernando, who remained with the airline till it was forced to close down in August 1979.
I will always remember Capt. Nada for the advice he would give me from time to time.
Whenever I went home back to Jaffna, and then got stuck for a seat to fly back to Colombo, most of the Captains would make it their responsibility to have me on the flight.
I would go as a passenger, occupying the jump seat, or stand in the cockpit, all the way to Colombo. Capt. Nada never failed to give me this privilege.
Capt. Nada is survived by his wife Chitra, sons Thajkumar, Nandakumar, Sureshkumar, Premkumar and Panchakumar.
He will be greatly missed by his family, friends, ex-colleagues at Air Ceylon – and everyone whose lives he touched.
May his soul Rest in Peace.
And Captain, may you continue to keep flying, high above the others, as always.