September 29, 1998: Downing of Lionair Flight 602 over Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan terrorist group LTTE was behind the shootdown of a flight from Jaffna in 1998 in which more than 50 were killed.

Sophisticated technology and terrorist intent are a recipe for disaster.

JAFFNA, SRI LANKA — The last time you flew in a commercial aircraft, which I am assuming was a while ago given what COVID-19 has done to our travel plans, how did you spend your time?

Did you watch a movie? Read a book? Enjoy the fine in-service cuisine (if the latter PLEASE tell me which airline you flew because ‘fine dining’ and ‘flying’ are rarely found in the same sentence!). Or did you look out the window?

I find that after I do all of the above I tend to sit back and glance at the outside (I usually ask for a window seat). I enjoy looking at the horizon or down at the ground. I find it peaceful. Sometimes I see other flights in the distance.

What would not be good is to glance out the side and see a missile heading straight for the fuselage.

On this day in 1998

Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened to the passengers on a flight in Sri Lanka heading from Jaffna to Colombo. The aircraft disappeared from radar screens ten minutes after takeoff: 14 years later wreckage believed to be from the plane was found in the sea by the Sri Lankan navy. All aboard – 48 passengers and a crew of 7 perished in the crash.

The aircraft was known to have been shot down by the Sri Lankan terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) using a MANPADS – a portable surface-to-air missile. The LTTE had warned of attacks, which it justified by saying that the airline had been carrying Sri Lankan army personnel (with whom the Tigers were at war for three decades). It is always a scary thing when terrorist groups get access to sophisticated weaponry along these lines.

The LTTE originally published the downing of the plane in its newspaper “Eelanadan” as a heroic deed but it later retracted and put the blame on the Security Forces after information that all 48 victims were Tamils

It is one thing to target a military force as soldiers expect to be attacked. it is quite another to bring down a plane full of civilians (flight 602 was carrying 17 women and 8 children).

What do mothers and kids have to do with your ‘war’?

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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