Saturday, February 21, 2009

LTTE used pocket torch to navigate planes

*Planes packed with high explosives
*Tigers lacked sophisticated automated systemsFebruary 21, 2009 (AFP) - Tamil Tiger rebels who staged a suicide air raid on Sri Lanka's capital used a pocket torch to navigate, but their planes were packed with high explosives, military officials said Saturday.

One of the Tigers' two light aircraft was shot down before it could hit its intended target the main airforce base at Katunayaka the military said.

A military source said a search of the wreckage found that the pilot had no night vision equipment to fly in pitch darkness and instead used a pocket torch and a hand-held global positioning device.

"We have recovered the wreckage in almost one piece and found 215 kilos (473 pounds) of C-4 type high explosives," Wing Commander Nanayakkara told AFP. "But the aircraft had very basic navigational aides."

Authorities immediately switched off electricity in the capital when they detected the rebel aircraft heading toward the city late Friday.

Two people were killed and another 58 wounded when the second plane smashed into Colombo's main tax office.

Military officials said they had expected the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to use the planes in a suicide attack before losing them to advancing government forces in the north of the island.

The guerrillas have now lost over 98 percent of the territory they once controlled and are confined to an area of less than 100 square kilometres (38 square miles) along a coastal jungle stretch in the island's northeast.

"Both planes were operated by suicide pilots," Nanayakkara said.

"One plane wanted to hit the air force headquarters, but due to the volume of anti-aircraft fire, it had to change course," he said. "He probably crashed into the Inland Revenue building after taking a lot of ground fire."

Military sources said they suspected the Tigers lacked sophisticated automated systems and had also used basic navigational aides on their previous missions to Colombo.

"It's not easy to fly low at night and it's even more difficult when you don't have the right instruments," a senior commercial pilot said. "These Tiger pilots must have had extensive training abroad."

The guerrillas are known to have at least five Zlin-143 planes smuggled into the country in parts and re-assembled.

Sri Lanka's military has captured all the air strips the guerrillas operated, but the two aircraft took off from a strip of paved road in an area still under their control.

They were airborne for nearly an hour before they were taken down by ground fire.

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