He Gained International Notoriety to Meet his Family

Photo by Miguel Ángel Sanz on Unsplash
 
There have been numerous aircraft hijackings all around the world since 1910. This particular hijacker is the first and ever Sri Lankan hijacker. There are separate public opinions about him back then and now. He is a hero to some people, at the same time he is a criminal to others. After you read this, it is up to you to decide if he is a hero or a criminal.

He is Sepala Ekanayake. I don't want to mention himself to anyone in Sri Lanka. Since he is famous that much among the Sri Lankans. This particular person didn't gain only Sri Lankan attention at the time but internationally as well. All this happened on June 30, 1982, after he hijacked the Alitalia Boeing 747 with 340 passengers on board.

Sri Lanka is a small island. A man in such a country has hijacked a Boeing jumbo jet passenger flight! How is it possible? Let me tell you the story.

He was a revolutionary even as a child

Sepala was born on June 3, 1949, in a village called Karatota in southern Sri Lanka. He was a child when his mother died. Shortly afterwards, his father remarried. He first attended a village school, and then he attended Yodakandiya Vidyalaya in Hambantota.

As a revolutionary boy, he ran away from his father's home to Colombo at the age of fifteen. There he stayed at the home of one of the school's headmasters. Sepala's father had not been able to find him for six months. After spending few years in Colombo in 1972 Sepala moved to West Germany with the help of a friend.

In Germany, he worked in several jobs for three years. He loved to travel during the holidays. As a result of this, he moved to Italy from Germany. That trip was a turning point in his life.

He was a loving father

In 1977, he fell in love with an Italian girl named Anna Aldrovandi. They married and moved to Modena, Italy in 1980. There, they had a son and Sepala named his son Free Ekanayake. He loved his son more than anything else in the world.

After marrying an Italian woman, Sepala received an Italian residence permit. It should be renewed annually. Sepala was able to get renew his residence permit for four consecutive years.

That is the beginning of this all

Eventually, the Italian government refused to renew Sepala's residence permit. They urged Sepala to apply for a new residence permit in Italy through the Italian Embassy in Colombo.

As a result of this, Sepala had to return to Sri Lanka. There he reached Italian Embassy in Colombo regarding his residence permit. However, they noted that Sepala would have to wait six years to get his residence permit back.

Anna and Free were in Sri Lanka at the time though they had to move back to Italy. Sepala's love for his family didn't allow him to wait six years. Sepala did everything that he could to get his visa back and reunite with his family. But nothing worked.

Hijacking

Sepala wanted to get the attention of the Italian authorities to reunite with his family. Therefore, he decided to hijack an Italian passenger flight to forward his demand to the Italian authorities.

First, he flew to the New Delhi airport in India with some of his friends to prepare for the hijacking. Ultimately, on June 30, 1982, he waited at New Delhi airport for the Alitalia Boeing 747 from Rome on its way to Tokyo. Once the flight landed, he boarded the flight and sat on a rear seat.

The flight was carrying 340 passengers. Sepala waited for the flight to reach 35,000 feet to execute his plan. He then sent a letter to the pilot informing the pilot of the hijacking and his demands.

He has mentioned two basic demands. Which are,

  • The flight must land at Bangkok-Don Muang International Airport and his wife and son must be brought safely to the airport.
  • A ransom of 300,000 US Dollars from Italian authorities.

Apart from that, he has instructed the pilot that the doors of the aircraft should be closed after landing at Bangkok-Don Muang International Airport and deliver his demands to the Italian authorities only through the radio.

In addition, he stated that if his orders were not obeyed, he would blow up the plane with all the passengers and that there would be explosions in Modena and another city in Italy.

Subsequent authorities, however, found that all the explosives were counterfeit. Even the three dynamite sticks he said were trapped in his chest were found to be empty tubes.

After reading the letter, the chief pilot Captain George Amarosa immediately descended the flight level from 35,000 feet to 25,000 feet. The pilot then agreed to do exactly the way as Sepala had mentioned in his letter.

Once the plane landed, the Thai authorities took the necessary actions to contact the Italian authorities. Eventually, Sepala was able to fulfil his wish. Anna and Free were safely handed over to the Sepala along with the ransom money of 300,000 US Dollars. After 30 hours of indecision, Sepala released the exhausted passengers and came out from the flight.

Pen-ultimately, Sepala faced the problem of finding a place for them to live along with the ransom money. Since he hadn't any plans after the hijacking took place. The Sri Lankan ambassador to Thailand at the moment has assured Sepala that he could return to Sri Lanka without any hesitations. She later denied that she had made that statement.

The Sri Lankan government faced a very intricate situation

At the time there wasn't any law to arrest an aeroplane hijacker in Sri Lanka. Consequently, Sepala was able to travel to Sri Lanka without any fear. Some people in Sri Lanka welcomed him as a hero.

While the Thai government branded Sepala as an illegal immigrant, the Italian government forced Sri Lanka to hand over Sepala to Italy. But the majority of public opinion in Sri Lanka was against it. Eventually, the Sri Lankan government had to arrest Sepala. Anna and Free were safely sent to Italy.

Aftermath

Although Sepala was arrested, the Sri Lankan government had no rules to take any action against him. So the government had to pass a new law in parliament in order to try Sepala in courts. This was the first time that Sri Lanka has implemented an ex post facto law.

At the end of the trial, Sepala was sentenced to five years imprisonment and sent to Welikada prison. While he was in prison, Anna asked for the divorce and Sepala granted it. During his sentence, he wrote a book and later published it under the title "Uta saha Thota".

After his release from prison, Sepala remarried and became the father of a son and a daughter. At the age of nineteen Free came to Sri Lanka to visit his father. That was the first time he had reunited with his son after the incident. Having not seen each other for years, Free has been able to recognize his father at a glance.

According to Sepala, he did all this out of love for his son Free. No matter how innocent the aspiration is, literally aircraft hijacking is a major crime considering all passenger's lives depend on the hijacker.

Reference:
 
--------------------------------------------------------------------

Originally published at: Crime Beat