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Archive for April 16th, 2008

The atmosphere was misty with very low visibility. The ground had turned muddy, due to pouring rains.

The Commando team had picked out a secure clearing in the middle of the woods, made a makeshift helipad with felled forest trees and were standing guard nearby. One lit up a smoke signal, just as the Bell 212 was approaching, to draw the attention of the helicopter. The LTTE opened fire as they lowered.

Rescue Mission In Air

Prologue:

Eight men of the Army Commando Regiment Forward Reccee party were scouring in the Vanni Periyamadu area, 20 miles up enemy territory to gather military intelligence.

20th November, night; one of the soldiers of the eight manned team stepped on a pressure mine. The information was communicated to the Army and the latter called for assistance for evacuation from the Air Force and in turn the message was transferred to Air Force Operations. The Number 7 Helicopter Squadron was selected for the rescue mission.

Date: November 21, 2001

Time: 1100 hours

Location: Air Force Base, Hingurakgoda

Wing Commander Bernard Perera, two Bell 212 pilots and two gunners were briefed by Major Wijesinghe of the Commando Regiment at the Hingurakgoda Air Force Base. Major Wijesinghe knew the terrain quite well and described how the rescue should be attempted, with the help of maps and GPS (Geographic Positioning System) coordination.

All was in place except the ‘go ahead’ by the stranded Reccee team. They were in LTTE held area more than 20 miles up and there was no way for them to turn back or any way of moving ahead with the casualty.

The noise of the blast, would have also announced their presence in the area to the LTTE, since they were inside LTTE held area. The team wanted the rescue team to hold back until they reached a secure location, two to three miles away so as not to jeopardize the safety of the rescue team.

“They did not want to put us in any danger under any circumstances, not even if it meant that they had to sacrifice their own lives.” said Corporal Batuwatta Jayasingha, Number 7 Helicopter Squadron – one of the gunners who was detailed to go in the Bell 212. Corporal Batuwatta Jayasingha had joined the Air Force in 1990 as a recruit.

Two MI 24s came as escorts and a MI 17 came as a back up, for the Bell 212. But they had to stall the rescue mission for another day – till November 22, due to heavy and persistent rains. The leg of the soldier had to be amputated below the knee, by his colleagues, and was wrapped with field dressing to arrest the bleeding.

Date: November 22, 2001

Time: 0800 hours

Location: Air Force Base, Hingurakgoda

The Bell 212 with two pilots, two gunners along with Major Wijesinghe flew out on the rescue mission from Hingurakgoda Air Force Base, but had to be stalled yet again because of rains. Permission was granted to go only upto as far as Anuradhapura.

1100 hours: As directed by Major Wijesinghe the rescue party found the eight man team exactly at the rendezvous point as planned. The atmosphere was misty with very low visibility. The ground had turned muddy, due to pouring rains.

The Commando team had picked out a secure clearing in the middle of the woods, made a makeshift helipad with felled forest trees and were standing guard nearby. One lit up a smoke signal, just as the Bell 212 was approaching, to draw the attention of the helicopter.

The LTTE opened fire as they lowered. Fortunately, because of the stealthy move by the Commando team the LTTE were not in a position to check on the helipad. “They were so agile that they clung on to the helicopter in a matter of five seconds and were able to lift off ASAP.” said Corporal Batuwatta Jayasingha.

1145 hrs: The eight manned team – thanks to the assistance of the rescue party – reached Colombo, where the injured soldier was given the necessary medical attention. “Despite three days of bleeding the injured soldier flat refused to be carried on a stretcher to be moved to an ambulance, but hobbled with one foot.”

Todays Heroes Forever is dedicated to the brave airmen who were detailed on that rescue mission on November 22, with four of whom being awarded the Rana Sura Medals for rescuing the eight who were stranded in the LTTE territory at great risk to their own lives.

Sgt. Batuwatta Jayasingha of the Number 7 Helicopter Squadron, has now been promoted to the rank of Sergeant, was one among them.

Certain names have been changed in order to withhold identity.

(Sunday Observer)

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