Capt Elmo Jayawardena

Search for Ehelepola’s grave in Mauritius

Published 4 days ago on January 2, 2021 In the Island Newspaper, Sri Lanka


Search for Ehelepola’s grave in Mauritius

By Capt. Elmo Jayawardena

(The writer of the State Literary Award-winning book, The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay, prompted by what he saw in the Mauritius)


The SIA jumbo turned for the final approach on Plaisance International Airport. The night was cloudy and listless, the sky was demanding with a stratocumulus overcast. There was moderate rain over the airfield. My copilot who was flying the aeroplane was an experienced operator and he landed the big Boeing 747 with professional skill that received applause from the passengers.

We taxied and parked in front of the terminal. It was almost midnight; I’ve arrived in the island of Mauritius, not merely as a pilot but to start another one of my wild goose chases.

This one was a peach. I was going to look for Ehelepola’s grave. The first Prime Minister of the last King of Kandy, who I read somewhere, was buried in the island of Mauritius.

The story of Ehelepola is a tragedy that Lankans are familiar with. King Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe beheaded the sons and ordered the mother to kill the baby in a mortar by pounding the infant with a pestle. He then drowned Kumarihamy in the Bogambara Lake.

All this was done in retaliation to Ehelepola joining the British against the King.

I am no scholar nor historian, just a very ordinary aeroplane driver, or perhaps may be a wild-goose-chase man. Hence, I’ll leave the historical details to those who know better and get on with my chase.

Search for Ehelepola’s grave in MauritiusThe only knowledge I had was that the grave was in a place called Pamplemousse. I thought that Pamplemousse was a place like our Kanatte cemetery and all I needed was to walk around and find the grave. A simple enough task for a lazy morning.

The little conversation I had with the hotel staff convinced me that the search was not going to be easy. My idea of looking for a grave in Pamplemousse was instantly laughed into extinction by the receptionist. Pamplemousse was an area bigger than Colombo, and it had so many cemeteries, and nobody ever heard anything about any Ehelepola, let alone where he was buried. Now things were getting a bit complicated, and I love complications.

Out through the door, into the first taxi and “take me to Pamplemousse” I said to the driver who came out of a yawn. We had the usual bargain for the price, which is more traditional than a necessity, and I let him win. His Cambric shirt and coral bead necklace gave him a left over “flower child” look and the way he crashed his gears and shot out of the palm lined driveway left me in no doubt that I had found my Man Friday to chase rainbows.

It was a bright morning, a typical Southern Hemispheric Spring with an Azure blue African Sky. One must have something to do; even if it is something totally stupid like looking for a long-forgotten grave in a totally unknown place called Pamplemousse.

Mauritius is a beautiful place especially in the mornings. The air is crisp and clean and the wind has a gentle blowing, the kind that soothes the soul. Pamplemousse was an hour away and I settled to enjoy the scenic pleasantness of the passing landscape and the limited conversation of the driver, who spoke halting English.

He of course was totally clueless about cemeteries and Ehelepolas. Off we went, the minor Fangio flower-child and me – he with his Great Gatsby cap, Walrus moustache, perhaps with thoughts wondering who this passenger fool was, and me in silent contemplation with my hopes on graves hitting cloud nine.

Shortly after 10 a.m. we reached Pamplemousse. A cup of tea in a little café, and inquiries as to where the nearest cemetery was, and off we went, the driver and I. By now he was my co-wild goose chaser, he voluntarily joined the idiot team, first as a driver, then as an interpreter and quickly got promoted to comrade moonbeam catcher.

The first cemetery was five minutes away. I was out of the car in a flash and walking in the paths between the dead and buried, looking for Ehelepola. Most names were French and it didn’t take me long to traverse the length and breadth and eliminate this cemetery from my agenda. Back to the car, a little conversation with some cemetery visitors (by now my driver was doing yeoman service in the translations) and off we went to cemetery number two, in a place called Pamplemousse alias wild goose country.

The day wore on, and the cemetery numbers were fast approaching the two digits. I was going on without any concession to sanity. The grave searching keenness in my partner was slowly dwindling down and becoming contagious. The sun was up and was beating the hell out of our enthusiasm.

Cluelessly walking among the dead, searching for something not even knowing what I am searching definitely added its weightage to the hopelessness of the situation. By now my soul partner had concluded that I had butterflies in my brain box and was content to let me do the walking and watch from the limited comfort of his Morris Oxford.

Only the stubbornness in me kept me going or rather the mule in me.

Mule sounds better than donkey – one must take certain liberties of elevation when referring to oneself.

A lot of tea, a lot of cafes, a lot of inquiries and a lot of cemeteries later, I gave up. My partner was delighted, and I was, well what can I say, I guess I was disappointed. It was past four o’clock and we had done about six hours of cemetery trudging. I had a flight to operate at two a.m. and it was time to go back to the hotel and get some sleep.

We drove back along another road through the jungle, tall trees and scrub bush. We almost missed it, yet the Gods were kind (They have been known to shed sympathy on clueless clowns like me) and I saw…no I felt…or was it premonition I don’t know, it happened so fast, the next thing I knew I was screaming at the driver to stop.

The monument was there, by the roadside, a little into the jungle, white and serene and standing by itself amidst the tall trees that stood like sentinels. This was a totally isolated place, in the middle of nowhere, a place called Power Mill Forest, Marcellemet, St. Andre, Pamplemousse. I have come to the grave of Ehelepola Wijesoondra Wickramasinghe Chandrasekara Amerakoon Wasala Modianse late First Adikar or Prime Minister to the King of Kandy.

It was approximately a ten-foot square memorial, clean and beautiful. It had a majesty matched by a sadness. That is the way I felt. It was obvious somebody had cleaned and cared for the monument. The whiteness gleamed in the shadows of the tall trees. The lettering was clear, one side in English and other side, in my very beloved Sinhalese.

I read the epitaph in my own language and felt a strangeness that I find hard to explain. The man, the tragedy, the history, the Sinhalese words in a jungle in a far away land all combined, gave emotions that I normally do not experience.

The strangest of all was a wreath of flowers, dead and withered that lay on the white pedestal. Somebody else did come by this place and not so long ago. Perhaps a week or ten days the most. He or she was no stranger like me.

This was someone who took the trouble of cleaning the grave. Someone who carried flowers and laid them for a man who died 165 years ago. Even in this far away land and remote place, someone had cared to remember.

History and folklore branded him a traitor. Yet the truth could be so very different. The English banished him to Mauritius. The English governed our destiny and wrote our history. A century and a half later, it is difficult for us to know what really the truth was. We have no intimate knowledge of the man or the events. We do not understand the reasons, the fears, the actions and the emotions that took place so long ago. We cannot presume and we should not judge.

To us, Ehelepola must not be the traitor nor the hero, but a man, who lived life with moments as bitter as a man could remember. A human being who must surely have suffered at the tragic and gruesome death of his beloved wife and children and grieved at having been banished from his home country by a power that is alien to be buried in a foreign land, not under the soft comforting earth of his beloved Lanka.

I stood before the monument with mixed feelings. Here was a man who was born to a heritage. Noble in birth equaled to the common and unknown in his death and buried in a strange land so far away from his loved ones and beloved homeland.

I spent a few moments in contemplation and walked away – making a solemn promise to the man buried in this forsaken corner of the earth that I will bring his story to his country and his own people.

That night I took off from Mauritius to Singapore. A pleasant night to start a ten-hour sector. It had the peculiar beauty of an African night that appeals to aviators. Cool and clear, with a light wind as added flavour. The heavy jet roared down the limited runway and eased into a sky that was beautiful.

Somebody had lavishly switched on the whole Milkyway and overhead a million tiny stars twinkled and splashed in a velvet blue midnight sky. I sat there in the dimly lit flight deck lulled by the big jet engines thinking of the day and the events I had left behind. I had come to find a grave, merely as a fancy, but I had found much more. I had found part of history, a tragic part of history that told the tale of a man accused and judged by society, long forgotten by his people buried in isolation in a scrub jungle in a place called Pamplemousse.

Yet someone remembered and that someone cared, because the flowers on this grave were most certainly not the work of sympathetic angels.

My mind kept wandering back to the withered wreath of flowers. I set course and settled for the long night, and as I lost sight of Mauritius under the blanket of stars, I kept wondering who the flower bearing angel was, and would have given anything to know why the remembrance after so long. (This article was first published about 30 years ago.)


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Capt. Elmo Jayawardena Chronicles -Ehelepola Adhikaram Tomb


The SIA jumbo turned for the final approach on Plaisance International Airport.  The night was cloudy and listless, the sky was demanding with a stratocumulus overcast.  There was moderate rain over the airfield. My copilot who was flying the aeroplane was an experienced operator and he landed the big Boeing 747 with professional skill that received applause from the passengers.

         We taxied and parked in front of the terminal.  It was almost midnight; I’ve arrived in the island of Mauritius, not merely as a pilot but to start another one of my wild goose chases.

         This one was a peach.  I was going to look for Ehelepola’s grave. The first Prime Minister of the last King of Kandy, who I read somewhere, was buried in the island of Mauritius.

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Capt. Elmo Jayawardena Chronicles – Paradise Misplaced

sri lanka mask

Our island was called Lanka in pre King Vijaya times. Valmiki’s immortal Ramayanaya had King Ravana ruling the land from the city of Lankapura . That was almost four thousand years ago. The Arab traders termed it Jaziratul-Yaqut, island of rubies. Some called it Serandip, some Ceilan, from which the Portuguese picked Ceilao and the European map-makers coined Ceylon. Many were the names from the many that came,
and they all were collective in their comment in the description of this land. Bar none, everyone agreed and noted in their chronicles that this island was indeed the complete Paradise.

We never gained it. Let’s be honest about that part. We simply inherited. The Gods from their celestial dome, in their infinite kindness, gifted this Paradise to us, the beautiful island of Lanka, to the people of Sri Lanka .

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Somebody stole my Christmas – by Capt. Elmo Jayawardena

Capt Elmo Jayawardena

Christmas is special, rather very special.  Everybody looks forward to Christmas. Silent nights and silver bells, mistletoe and pine smells, all wrapped up in wishes and kisses and the hugs and gifts that are so very special at Christmas time.

      Looking forward to Christmas is a world wide phenomenon; the mighty and the humble, the rich and the poor, the holy, the unholy and the super unholy, they all await the yuletide. The “haves” revel and the “have-notsscramble. Yet a celebration is made, no matter how small the purse is or how light the coins jingle in one’s pocket.

      I always look forward to Christmas. It’s such a beautiful time. There is always something wonderful about that season. To a point it is imaginary. To be enjoyed more in prospect than in reality. Yet, it is something to look forward to, something to pastel shade the every day prosaic of life.

 One can have a wonderful Christmas, a terrible Christmas or maybe a “could have been better Christmas”. I’ve had my share of the entire lot. But 1994 was different.

     Someone stole my Christmas

My twenty fourth of December became the 26th with no twenty fifth in between. Yes, my Gregorian calendar for the year 1994 did not have a twenty fifth, which meant – no Christmas day.

      That, in all its simplicity is my story.

 It needs a unique combination of ill-luck to achieve this oddball situation. One must be really feasting on a bad news buffet to be the recipient. Well, I have often been a champion at pulling the short straw. This really was one of the shortest I ever drew.

     My nomadic aeroplane driving world had sardonically made sure my Christmas was cancelled. No silent nights, no Santa Clause, no church bells that ring silver. No wishes and kisses and hugs that bind, just one simple leap from the twenty fourth to the twenty sixth.

         Possibly, I was no favorite of Santa Clause. Never mind a gift; I would have been glad if he had given me the day.

       Yes, some don’t get into his list. That is the sad side of Christmas. The left-out ones are usually poor little kids who believe and write those meaningless little notes and wake with hope and find Santa never arrived. Almost similar to aeroplane drivers who leapfrog the Christmas day. I’ve seen both sides of that coin; once upon a time I too have been a note writer to wake and find Santa skipped my house.

     I guess one more time wouldn’t make all that much of a difference. Once in a while it’s good to remember that you can’t win them all. You got to lose some too. It’s good to know the feeling of losing, that’s what life is all about.  You win some, you lose some, and you grin and go on.

 At eleven in the night on the twenty fourth of December 1994, I power-ran the big jet engines of a 747 and rolled down the runway from the City of Angeles and flew into a noel night sky, on my way to Taiwan. It’s a long flight from Los Angeles to Taipei, almost fifteen hours.  Flying west bound, I crossed the international dateline and landed in Shiang Kai Shak Airport on the 26th of December. Some where across that lonely Pacific stretch, someone erased my Christmas.

I remember everything about that night; it was so very special, something that needed to be saved in the hard-disk of life. I recall how I kept staring at the vast clear open spaces that I love so much, the Pacific Sky splashed with heavenly lights and traces of whispery clouds. I remember a gibbous moon too, pale, yet luminous, giving a silvery touch to the mid-night blue.  It’s difficult to describe, the serenity. It’s the zenith of what beauty could be. The tranquility of a night flight-deck in silent glide under the munificence of a million stars.

      At thirty seven thousand feet, I felt I was in a very special church. I was in God’s own cathedral. I remember solemnly singing my own mass, at least the parts I could remember and reverently giving myself some sort of a sermon. Then I caroled it with a hum of Silent Night and Silver Bells and thanked all the Gods in creation for all they have given me in life and especially when they hadn’t asked for anything in return. That was my prayer; no request, no complaint, just heartfelt words of gratitude expressed in solitude seated on the left seat of a 747 whispering words that came from the very depth of me where very sacred thoughts are stored.          

      Thus under the canopy of a celestial heaven, I celebrated my own Christmas. That was a beautiful and wonderfully memorable communion.

    I landed in Taipei with grateful thanks for a very special Christmas that would last in memory a lifetime.    

      Yes, Christmas is not only the glamour of a glittering pine tree laden with tinsel and coloured lights. Not a fancy Hallmark card or a gift from a loved one. Neither is it a visit from Santa Clause nor a feast of champagne, caviar and chateaubriand. It is much more, perhaps something closer to a remembrance of who we are and in some ways a sanctified communication with who or what someone calls God.

    1994 taught me that.

 Capt.   Elmo  Jayawardena

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Capt Elmo Jayawardena

It looks like when the Silver Bells ring this year and Silent Night takes the air Santa himself will be struggling to do his rounds with possible curfew and lockdowns. Corona has tortured the entire world in absolute mean measures and is now getting ready for the final kill. The pandemic is going to ruin our festive season like never before. It is nobody’s fault but that is how fate had decided to throw the dice. Of course, in many countries the battle against Corona raged yo-yoing between winning and losing. Most preventive actions and Covid 19 treatments were more like Russian Roulette, the medical world was fighting against time to find a cure. The unknown menace was spreading and killing people. That has been the story of the year 2020 for most, a time of trauma and sorrow that completely engulfed the entire planet. Yes, there is hope in our current status as vaccine solutions are in the horizon. So are promising Ayurvedic treatment. Yet we got to pass the interim till Pfizer or its competitors find a ‘sure-shot’ cure to put the world back to normal.

Fizzled out Christmases are nothing new in Sri Lanka or for that matter in the entire world. Many of us have seen the full blast of a poverty Christmas or a war revenged Christmas. Of course, they came in different waves, but good enough to drown us in wallowing pity for the sheer lack of money to celebrate. Children were the most effected in this yuletide crossroad. The ‘Haves” had the festivity and flamboyance of everything whilst the ‘Have Nots’wrote meaningless letters to Santa Claus asking for the moon. It is the ‘Have Nots’ who heard other people’s carols and crackers and watched neighborhood skyrockets screeching up to blast and flower-shower the midnight sky. This is a familiar cruelty of celebrating Christmas.

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A SAD NIGHT TO REMEMBER – by Capt Elmo Jayawardena

DC-8 crash

Martinair DC-8

Capt Elmo Jayawardena4th of December 1974 a DC-8 aircraft belonging to Martinair crashed into the Anjimalai mountain range also known as the Seven Virgins. The accident happened around 1015 PM and the location was in the vicinity of Maskeliya. This was the worst air disaster that had taken place in Sri Lanka. 191 lives were lost with no survivors. That is how the 4th of December became a sad night to remember.

Corona curfews give us time to read and in my isolation at home I have been pulling out ‘Bucket-listed’ stories to munch. Most articles I browsed through about the Martinair DC-8 crash had covered all aspects of this horrible disaster. Adequate details were available to re-construct the story and come to reasonable conclusions of what may have happened. We all know the easy way out of most aeroplane crashes has been the first-choice of the hit-parade – PILOT ERROR.  The captain is buried beneath the Seven Virgins hills in shamed silence. So is his First Officer and the Flight Engineer.  The case is closed and forgotten.  I have no defense to rub on behalf of the crew to give even a shallow coating of an excuse.  But! There is a ‘BUT’ I need to mention here. On one side we have technology inundated with fancy aviation jargon. Add to that a half-burnt Black Box and communication tapes between the pilot and the controller. Plus, all the details of the flying records of the crew and what they have done and what they have not done. Then comes a hundred titbits of aeronautical specifics that act as tinsel to an investigation.


FO Robert Blomsma

All that is fine, valid to be used at round table conferences where aviation-related head umpires and leg umpires, third umpires plus match referees discuss and make decisions taking all the time in the world. It is not the same for the Captain and his crew. No doubt they are professionally competent aircrew. Yet, some decisions to be made in an aeroplane are instant. You win some and you lose some and the ones you lose may have devastating repercussions. Worst is you may not even be living to tell 

your side of the story. A few seconds make the difference between life and death. In such calamitous situations we tend to forget that the most lethal ingredient in an aviation disaster is – The Human Factor.

The Captain is not an infallible demi-god who jumped out of Mount Olympus and sat in the cockpit of his aeroplane. He is human and so are his crew. They are no different to the ordinary you and me. I have been a Captain for a considerable amount of years. I have made many mistakes flying aeroplanes. I humbly say I was lucky I escaped without an accident. There is nothing courageous or brilliant about that, it is simply the way fate rolled the dice. Such would be the story of any Captain. Admitted or not, it is the truth, the absolute truth.


Martinir tyre -1

The scales of justice in an aviation accident investigation is handled by competent authorities. In the case of the Martinair DC-8 crash there were three Civil Aviation Departments associated with the inquiry. Sri Lanka, The Netherlands, and Indonesia. Plus, there would have been the McDonnell Douglas Company that built the aeroplane and insurance companies that were present to protect their dollar. There had been whispers about the Doppler system in this aeroplane having errors which resulted in inaccuracies in the ‘distance to go’. It was also said that the crew were not informed of this. There is nothing to substantiate such statements and as such, it is best that I leave them out and keep them buried along with the aeroplane. I also read that the co-pilot had a traumatic childhood and that could have affected his behavior when approaching to land. I make no comment on such absurdities.  


Seven Virgins mountain

Let me now take you to the story of the DC 8 that crashed into the Seven Virgins mountain range. The accident tragically killed 191 innocent people (182 passengers + 9 crew). It sure is a terrible night to remember.

The flight was from Surabaya, Java, to Jeddah via Colombo which was a re-fueling stop. This was Muslim pilgrimage time to Mecca for the Haj.  Devotees came from all parts of the world. Some flew in on private jets but most travelled on chartered aeroplanes.  The flight that took off from Surabaya was a DC-8 55CF aeroplane owned by Martinair of The Netherlands which had been leased by Garuda Indonesia to fly the Haj charters. In command was Capt Hendrik Lamme, 58 years old, a very experienced pilot who had flown 27000 plus flying hours of which 4000 were on DC-8s. The First Officer Robert Blomsma had 2480 hours and was new on the DC-8 type with 47 hours. The third crew member, the flight engineer was Johannes Wijnands who had flown 3000 hours on DC-8 type aeroplanes. Back in the cabin there were 6 crew members, 4 were Dutch and 2 were from Indonesia. The aircraft had a Dutch registration of PH-MBH and was less than 10 years old. The flight plan filed call-sign for the flight was MP 138.

Here I must explain to the reader something about the navigational instruments that the aeroplane had. I want to make it as simple as possible for a non-aviator to understand. 


The route from Surabaya to Sri Lanka is mostly oceanic. It starts with an airway called Red-61 and extends on a North-Westerly direction till it reaches the Sri Lankan Flight Information Region (FIR – 92 East longitude) and follows route Golf-462 to cross the coast at a waypoint located over Yala. This reporting point unfortunately had no Radio Aid for the pilots to cross-check their navigation when flying overhead. The primary navigation system that was in use by Martinair was called Doppler. This was operated

Flight Engineer Johannes Wijnands

worldwide by many airlines and during that era it was a primary navigational aid for jet aeroplanes flying long haul sectors. Doppler gave the pilots a digital reading of the distance to go to the waypoint it was heading to.  However, Doppler system was not overly accurate when flying over water for a long period and had to be updated over a radio beacon or a known geographical position (maybe a river or town) to maintain its accuracy. Flight MP 138’s route initially had radio beacons to update the Doppler. But the final ocean crossing before coast of Sri Lanka had no radio beacon for the crew to update the Doppler position. That was a long leg, too long to fly without an update.

The last point the DC-8 could have done a navigational cross-check would have been at a waypoint closer to Banda Archi airport which was about 135 miles right of their track. From there Capt. Lamme still had to fly close to two hours to reach the coast of Sri Lanka. He was navigating now purely by rudimentary ‘dead-reckoning’ and Doppler ‘distance to go’ readouts without any cross-check to update his position.

Flight MP138 crossed the FIR at 8.27 pm local time – six minutes earlier than the estimate. Calculating its speed by distance between two waypoints and time taken, the ground speed would be 478. That is at 8 miles a minute. Six minutes would be almost 50 miles. The FIR was about 850 miles from the Sri Lankan coastal waypoint. Maybe Capt. Lamme and his crew were getting a wrong ‘distance to go’ reading from their Doppler. It is difficult to fathom whether it was because of the reported fault in this particular aeroplane Doppler or it was because of a very long sea track flown without an update. It could even have been both. 

Already there had been a 6-minute (50 miles) correction made. Was it correct or was it a Doppler error?  There was no way to cross check and update. If it was a Doppler fault that could have been the cause the Martinair DC-8 flew all the way to its death in Maskeliya.

Flight MP 138 first contacted Colombo Air Traffic Control located at Ratmalana at 9.52 PM and reported 130 miles out at 35,000ft. They were only going by the Doppler. The controller answered ‘MP-138 clear descend 10,000 when ready and call 50 miles from Katunayake.” When Capt. Lamme commenced his descent by what his Doppler reading displayed his actual position would have been 50 miles east of where he thought he was. Unfortunately, Katunayake Airport at that time did not have Approach Radar nor a Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) which would have digitally told the pilot exactly how far he was from the airfield.

Few minutes later the DC-8 called “50 miles” and was cleared to 6000 and handed over to Colombo Approach Control at Katunayake. The First Officer who was doing the radio called Colombo Approach at 10.08 PM and reported he was ‘one four” (14)  miles from the Katunayake airport passing 7000 for 6000.  Approach Control had no Radar to see him. The controller had to go purely by the MP 138’s estimate of 14 miles from the airfield. He cleared MP 138 to 2000 ft and told him to call “field in sight” or overhead the KAT radio beacon.

“Roger, cleared 2000, to KAT or field in sight.” This was at 1010 by the first Officer.

That sadly was the last communication.

Memorial_on road side

On descent the DC-8 hit the 5th of the Seven Virgins mountains at a height of 4354 feet.  The impact place was about 65 miles from Katunayake. When F/O Blomsma reported 14 miles from the airport, he was most certainly giving the distance from the cockpit Doppler. He had no other instrument to read from other than a possible error-tainted Doppler. If you add 14 miles to the error of 50 miles on the Doppler the answer is 64.  Give or take a few miles for the random calculation I am doing and then perhaps the 64 coincides with the distance from Katunayake to where the crash occurred in the Anjimalai hills. 

The only other explanation for Capt. Lamme to initiate an early descent could have been a wrongly interpreted weather radar sighting of the eastern coast. These were black and white radar displays and it is possible that a low cloud could have been mistaken for the coast maybe 50 miles before ALGET. 

I, in no way can say what I have written is the gospel truth. I have no crystal-clear facts to ponder on. It is just my opinion I am stating. I do have some knowledge on Doppler matters as I have flown these routes in similar aeroplanes using Doppler navigation. Many opinions are expressed by journalists about this disaster. How true such inferences are, is another side of the coin. I was greatly assisted by Sri Lankan Air Traffic Controllers and communication officers, some who handled MP 138 arrival. I am deeply grateful for their first-hand information.

The possibility remains that Capt. Lamme may have commenced his descent approximately 50 miles before the planned point to leave 35000.  

The aeroplane crashed, there were many mitigating factors that left room and would have contributed for human error.

Hendrik Lamme

Capt Lamme

Capt. Hendrik Lamme was guilty of being a human being. 

                                                                      —-  —–                                                  

Today people driving past Norton Bridge town see a strange sight.  A structure displaying a large tyre. It is a wheel from the DC-8 that crashed in the Seven Virgins mountains. It could be all that is left of that magnificent aeroplane owned and flown by the Dutch. If one’s interest is kindled, on the road from Norton Bridge to Maskeliya there is a place where one should stop. A plaque of remembrance is there, erected in memory of those who are buried around this place at the foot of this hill. The Martinair crew and the Indonesian pilgrims who died on the slopes of the mountain were buried in a common grave by the roadside. People say flowers do get placed off and on at the memorial. In remembrance of who we know but by whom is a question mark?

Up in the mountain is the main memorial, a stone pillar-like monument erected at the actual crash site. Wind-swept and rain-soaked it stands in its forgotten loneliness. Perhaps it whispers its sadness amidst the Seven Virgins mountain range. The column had been erected in remembrance of the 191 innocent people who died there on a sorrowful December night, a long time ago.




Capt Elmo Jayawardena


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