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 Post subject: Warrant Officer P. L. S. L. Cooray
 Post Posted: Sat May 26, 2007 10:21 pm 
Warrant Officer P. L. S. L. Cooray
Above and beyond the call of duty

"considering the injuries sustained by Lance Corporal Cooray in the crash, his state of shock and the adverse weather conditions, this was a Herculean effort on his part which took approximately 45 minutes of sheer determination and struggle against all odds"

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@ ST / By Hiranthi Fernando

Warrant Officer P. L. S. L. Cooray is a survivor. Having had two brushes with death, this brave soldier is still serving in the Army. He was awarded the decoration, Weerodara Vibushanaya (WV) in 1991 for an act of bravery in 1984.

In November 1984, then a lance corporal of 1 Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment (1 SLSR) Cooray was serving in the Pallaly Camp in Jaffna. On November 30, Col. D.R.A.B. Jayatilaka (then Captain) of 1 SLSR - who was also serving at Pallaly on operational duties - received instructions to proceed on an air reconnaisance mission at about 6.30 in the evening. Accompanied by Cooray and Cpl. R.M. Ratnayake, he commenced the 'recce' at 7 p.m. in a helicopter piloted by Fl. Lt. Ajith Dabare.

"We used to fly around Jaffna to see if any LTTE boats were coming in," explained Cooray. "We were informed that two LTTE boats had been spotted in the process of landing at Madagal Beach and were instructed to destroy them."

The weather was turbulent with heavy rains and strong winds. And visibility was poor. "We were flying over the lagoon between Mandativu island and the mainland when we were hit by a wave," Cooray said. "We had not realised that we were flying so low. The chopper was blasted and we were thrown into the water. It happened so suddenly that we had no time to even put on our life jackets. It was around 7.30 p.m."

Cooray, who had been strapped to the seat, was thrown into the water with the seat. The seat kept afloat. He managed to free himself and keep swimming. "I heard Cpl. Ratnayake shouting," Cooray said. "He was strapped to his seat and his head was visible amidst the wreckage of the chopper, which was resting on the lagoon bed with a portion jutting out of the water. Cpl. Ratnayake was clinging on to the wreckage." The lagoon, was about six or seven feet deep.

"I swam about 10 metres up to the wreckage," Cooray continued. "My eyes were burning after the blast and everything was a blur. I could also hear Capt. Jayatilaka and Fl. Lt. Dabare calling out for help. And I could faintly see Capt. Jayatilaka struggling in the heavy swell about 30 metres away. Neither of them could swim. They kept sinking and coming up again."

Cooray managed to reach Capt. Jayatilleke and Fl. Lt. Dabare and give them his seat and another piece of debris to hang on to. With greatest difficulty, he pulled the Captain along holding on to the seat. Several times the exhausted soldier would let go and fall back into the water. However, Cooray persevered and finally got him to where Cpl. Ratnayake was hanging on to the helicopter. As stated by his Commanding Officer in a citation, "considering the injuries sustained by Lance Corporal Cooray in the crash, his state of shock and the adverse weather conditions, this was a Herculean effort on his part which took approximately 45 minutes of sheer determination and struggle against all odds".

Leaving Capt. Jayatilaka and Cpl. Ratnayake both clinging on to the debris of the chopper, Cooray went back to look for Fl. Lt. Dabare, who had drifted almost 300 metres away. Although he swam about 20 metres with difficulty, he was unable to rescue Fl. Lt. Dabare who had been washed further away. Cooray then swam back to the helicopter where the other two were waiting. "It was pitch dark and I had only their voices to guide me," he said.

"We were chest deep in water. Occasionally a huge wave would break over our heads. To add to our woes we were all vomiting. We could see the lights of Jaffna in the distance. We hung on hoping for a rescue party would find us. I could not swim with the other two - the sea was too rough."

Although a chopper flew overhead twice in search of them, they were not spotted. Somehow the three soldiers managed to hang on through the night, shivering in the cold wind. The next morning, the rain, wind and mist continued and visibility was low as well. A big vallam fishing boat came by around 9 a.m, but did not pick them up, Cooray said. "After 15 to 20 minutes, we saw another vallam. We took off our t'shirts, waved at them and shouted. We were thankful when they came up to us and pulled us in to the boat." The fishermen took the soldiers to the fishing wadiya at Navandurai. "They gave us hot tea and pittu," said Cooray continuing his recount of the incident. "We were given sarongs and even some nets to sleep on and they even lit a huge bonfire to warm us. Two of them went to the road to stop the bus. When the bus arrived, they helped us in and the other passengers too were very helpful. Capt. Jayatilaka was so moved by their kindness that he presented them the gold chain he was wearing."

As they travelled on the bus, they met a troop carrier searching for them. They were transferred to the troop carrier and taken to Gurunagar Camp. Due to the bad weather, a chopper could not take off to search for Fl. Lt. Dabare's body that night. The next day, Col. Jayatilaka and Cooray flew with a search party in a chopper to locate the scene of the crash.

The body of Fl. Lt. Ajith Dabare was found among some prawn nets about 500 to 600 metres away.

Cooray is grateful to Col. Warusawitana, the doctor who treated him for his ailments at the Army Hospital and to Gen. Sarath Fonseka, then Major of the C company 'who took great pains to search for us. We could not have survived if not for his perseverance," Cooray commented.

Lance Corporal Cooray was promoted a full Corporal in recognition of his bravery and awarded the WV in 1991. Recommending him for the medal, his Commanding Officer wrote, "During the incident described, Lance Corporal Cooray has shown rare traits of individual bravery, comradeship, unselfishness and devotion to his superior officer, which could be categorised as being above and beyond the call of duty."

Undaunted by his experience, Cooray volunteered to serve in Jaffna again when his company was deployed in Thondamannar. There he had another close shave with death three days before they were due to hand over to the Gemunu Watch. The commandos received information that there were three LTTE camps in Nelliady. Since Cooray's company knew the area, they had to guide the Commandos there. Lt. Dushan Perera, Cooray and eight others travelled to Nelliady in a new bullet- proof vehicle. But at Nelliady, they were caught in a landmine in which Lt. Perera and six others were killed instantly. Three, including Cooray escaped death although he spent ten months in hospital undergoing treatment for his injuries. The indomitable soldier who is now at the Regimental Headquarters of the Sinha Regiment, served in Jaffna again from 1987 until 1993.


Quote:
The Weerodara Vibushanaya

The Weerodara Vibushanaya is the second highest decoration awarded to members of the Armed Forces. This is granted to all ranks of the Regular and Volunteer Forces of the Army, Navy and Air Force of Sri Lanka for individual acts of gallantry and conspicuous bravery of non-military nature of the most exceptional order, performed voluntarily with no regard to their own lives and security, with the sole objective of saving or safeguarding the lives of a person or persons imperilled by death. It is also given for a meritorious act or series of acts of a humane nature of exceptional order displayed in saving a life from drowning, fire, rescue operations in mines, floods and similar calamities, under circumstances of grave bodily injury or great danger to the life of the rescuer. Recommendation for the award is made by the Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The decoration is conferred by the President at a special investiture.


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