Tiger who shot down plane carrying 56 civilians leads SLN to wreckage

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The SLN is exploring the possibility of salvaging a civilian aircraft, shot down by the LTTE on Sept 29, 1998 over Iranativu Island. It was the only civilian passenger aircraft brought down during the entire conflict.

Acting on information provided by an LTTE cadre, an SLN diving team, on Oct. 2, located the wreckage on the sea bed off Iranativu Island. The SLN team located two aircraft wings, three tyres, air craft engine and the front part of fuselage.

Asked whether the wreckage could be salvaged soon, SLN official said that a diving team was scheduled to visit Iranativu to explore the possibility. The official said that if the operation was feasible, it could be carried out within the next two weeks.

Security sources told The Island that since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, the person responsible for the missile attack had been in the custody of the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID). The suspect was a member of the four-man squad assigned to launch the missile attack from Iranativu Island, at that time, held by the LTTE.

The man in custody would be prosecuted along with those responsible for crimes against humanity, though 11,000 out of 12,000 LTTE cadres, held at the end of the conflict, were released in batches, sources said.

The LTTE brought down Lion Air 602 killing 48 men, women and children, six members of the crew as well as two

Ukrainian pilots just ten minutes after it took off from Palaly. The ill-fated Antonov 26 aircraft was flying from Palaly to Ratmalana. Sources pointed out that almost all the passengers on board Lion Air 602 were Tamils, including many students.

The suspect in TID custody had identified the person who ordered the aircraft shot down as one Gadafi, a close associate of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Gadafi was killed during the final phase of fighting on the Vanni east front in early 2009.

Consequent to the missile attack, the government suspended civil flights to and from the Jaffna peninsula. Bodies of some of those killed in the attack are believed to have been buried on the Iranativu Island.

In the absence of overland route to the peninsula since June 1990, civilians had no option but to use private passenger planes or ship to reach Jaffna. The Army restored the overland route in January 2009.

Sources said that the person in TID custody and his unit had been responsible for the destruction of several SLAF aircraft during the war.

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