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On the eve of 60th anniversary : SLAF loses two Kfirs, pilot in mid-air collision

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The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) yesterday morning lost two of its precious Israeli-built Kfir (Hebrew term for lion cub) fighter jets and a pilot in a mid-air collision over Weeragula, Gampaha. The crash occurred during a rehearsal for an aerobatics display at the Ratmalana airbase today (2) to mark the force’s 60th anniversary. Although first reports said both pilots had ejected safely, SLAF headquarters later reported that Flight Lieutenant Monath Perera had died of injuries sustained in the crash while Squadron Leader Vajira Jayakody survived. Both Perera and Jayakody had been experienced flyers involved in scores of operations against the LTTE over the years.

Enlisted in the SLAF on Jan. 8, 2004, Monath Perera has been commissioned as a pilot officer on July 8, 2005 and promoted as Flying Officer on Jan. 8, 2007. He was promoted to the rank of Flight Lt. on Jan 8, 2010 after the conclusion of the war.

Perera had served the FTW (Flying Training Wing), No 05 Squadron (F 7s), No 10 Squadron (Kfirs), No 14 Squadron (K8). The SLAF said that he was attached to the No 10 Squadron on Oct. 12, 2007 at the height of the Vanni campaign. An old boy of Mahinda College, Galle, he was a resident of Iriyagolla, Dehiowita, Avissawella.

Both one-seater Kfir aircraft were destroyed. The SLAF said that the aircraft were in their final run to fly over Ratmalana.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, visited the scene of the crash. Some of the burning debris landed on houses in the area and a road at Weeragula. The President was on his way back from Anuradhapura to Colombo after addressing a UPFA LG polls campaign rally the previous day when he heard of the tragedy and directed the VIP chopper to land close to the scene.

The Air Force had not lost any Kfirs during operations against the LTTE since the SLAF acquired the aircraft in early January 1996 during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s tenure. Sri Lanka initially acquired six Kfirs followed by eight Kfirs and one two-seat trainer. During the next decade more Kfirs joined the Squadron.

An SLAF official told The Island that a technical failure could have caused the tragedy. According to him, the ill-fated aircraft of the No 10 Fighter squadron were to be slated to perform at the Ratmalana air show along with MiGs (No 12 Squadron) and the F7s Squadron comprising F7s. In the wake of the mid-air collision, the No 10 squadron is unlikely to perform at today’s air show even if the government went ahead with the fly past involving other aircraft, including MiG 27s and F7s.

All three Jet squadrons are based at Katunayake, though a few operated from China Bay during the last phase of the war. Yesterday’s tragedy occurred almost immediately after the aircraft were launched from Katunayake airbase.

The SLAF lost about 25 per cent of pilots due to attacks and accidents. Although the loss of pilots and assets had been minimal during Eelam War IV, the SLAF lost 62 aircraft during the entire war. The loss of several aircraft, particularly AN 32 transport aircraft during the Kumaratunga administration (‘95 and ‘96), was one of the worst periods in the war.

SLAF officers at the Ratmalana air base told The Island that they knew something had gone wrong when jets didn’t fly over the Ratmalana airbase.

www.island.lk By By Shamindra Ferdinando

 

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