By DR. Chandrasiri Kudagamage
Insect pests cause substantial damage to our food crops. Insecticides are normally applied to combat them. However, dependency solely on insecticide for pest management has resulted in various undesirable environmental and human health problems. Human health is affected by the consumption of food with insecticidal residues. Also, the destruction of friendly insects such as pollinators, predators and parasites, is among some of environmental effects of indiscriminate use of insecticides. Long-term persistence of some chemicals in the environment and frequent exposure to these chemicals may also result in different forms of cancers. Sri Lanka ranks very high as regards pesticide-related health hazards and around 20,000 poisoning cases are reported per year and of them 1,600 are fatal. Seventy percent of them were related to suicide. (Registrar of Pesticide)
With the development of herbicide resistant crops like soya bean, corn and wheat the use of total weed killer glyphosate has increased and become most widely used herbicides in history. Farmers, in 2014, sprayed enough of the chemical to cover every acre of cropland in the entire world with nearly a half- pound of the herbicide, according to a 2016 study published in Environmental Sciences Europe. With this intensity of use glyphosate is likely to cause problems and as a result, this herbicide is being increasingly scrutinised for human health impacts. Scientists say it also could be altering the wildlife and organisms at the base of the food chain.
DDT was a widely used insecticide during post world war times. The popularity of this insecticide was due to it less acute toxicity. However, it was subsequently known that this insecticide accumulated in the fat layer of fish and mammals. It was banned in 1970s in our country. However, the use of insecticides continued and many farmers believed chemicals are important input for reducing yield losses.
Undesirable effects of chemicals came to be realised worldwide shortly after the wide use of agro-chemicals in post-world war times. Famous environmentalist and a marine biologist by profession, Rachel Carson in her book, ‘Silent Spring 1962’ highlighted the bad effects of indiscriminate use of chemicals. This inspired grass root environmental movements and others to highlight these effects in various forums. Carson did not anticipate a total ban on pesticide. However, she predicted consequences of over use of chemicals on biodiversity and target pests developing pesticide resistance etc. This led to establishment of environmental protection agency(1970) by an executive order from US President Richard Nixon. The purpose of this agency was to protect human health and environment. Similar legislature also being adopted in our country. The pesticide law 33 of 1980 was enacted to regulate import, manufacture, distribution and use of agro-chemicals in Sri Lanka.
To address the above issues new concept of pest management popularly known as Integrated Pest Management or IPM was launched and it evolved into an Eco-friendly and economical pest management tool. This approach has been recognised as a policy for the management of pests by successive governments. However, enough funding in the form of manpower, funding for conducting research, laboratory and analytical facilities has been limiting. This has slowed the progress of IPM in pest management in several crops.
The primary objective of IPM is to develop an economical eco-friendly pest management package where pesticides are used as the last resort when other control measures fail and the pest population exceed a certain threshold called the economic threshold. IPM integrate well with other available control methods and can be applied to any ecosystem such as crop based, home garden, greenhouses and domestic pest control.
Following globalisation and transboundary movements of food and with the increase of demand for diverse food, there has been a concern for contamination of food with various pathogens and chemical residues. Hence agriculture practices need to be introduced to minimise these effects. Recently-introduced Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) fulfil this requirement and goes beyond the scope of IPM.
IPM has various components such as mechanical control (use of bags for fruit fly control), use of resistant varieties, biocontrol (use of predators, parasites and microorganism) and legislative and quarantine (banning of imports from infested country).
IPM experience with major food crops
There are about five or six major insect pests in our staple crop rice. These pests infest different stages of the crop. Among the pests, rice brown planthopper (BPH) and rice gall-midge play an important role causing low to high of damage depending on the prevailing climate. Due to the cultivation of resistant varieties the incidence of rice gall-midge was very low compared to the times when susceptible varieties were cultivated. With respect to rice brown planhopper , the first resistant variety was introduced to farmers in 1980s. Although resistant varieties are ideal as an insect management method, evolution of new strains that can attack these resistant varieties remain a problem. This has happened with respect to gall-midge resistance where resistance broke down in rice varieties cultivated in the 1980s. However, rice breeders and entomologists were able to introduce a new resistant variety by 1984. There are reports of breaking down of this resistance in the recent times. This indicates importance of constant attention in monitoring resistance, management of resistance and finding new sources of resistance. The availability of molecular genetic tools make it easy for the incorporation novel forms of resistance, which is more stable.
The pests that attack at the seedling stages such as thrips are best approached by following correct planting time as heavy infestation is observed in late planted crop. With respect to rice bug which infest crop after flowering, use similar planting time in a Yaya, weeding around the bunds before weeds flower are important non-chemical methods
Although IPM in rice is fairly successful, it is not widely applied in vegetables and other crops. A study conducted by the Department of Agriculture (DOA) in four major vegetable growing Districts in Sri Lanka showed that 85% of farmers in the Badulla District applied pesticides to their crops before the appearance of any pests or symptoms. In the Nuwara-Eliya District this was recorded at 66%. This shows that chemical controls are used even before pest damage has exceeded economic threshold levels and the use of pesticides as a precautionary measure has become common.
Cucurbit fruitfly and melon fly infestation is the most common limiting factor in the cultivation of cucurbit crops for local consumption and export. The melon fly lays eggs deep inside the fruit. The emerging larvae feed inside the soft tissue. This results in fruit dropping and decay. The larvae pupate in soil. Insecticide control is difficult since larvae feed inside the fruit and avoid direct contact with insecticide. In the export consignment, if a single larva is present the whole consignment can get rejected. Therefore, alternative control strategy based on IPM concepts are required. There are several strategies such as bagging of fruits, collection of crop residues and decaying and fallen fruits into a black polythene bag which help to destroy the larvae due to heat developed inside the bag. Together with these cultural methods, application of protein bait is an innovative approach to control this pest. The female flies are attracted to protein substance and consumption of protein help to mature their eggs. Proteinous material prepared from locally available substances are mixed with soft insecticide and applied to leaves instead of fruits. To reduce the amount of insecticide used application to few spots of the crop is sufficient to reduce the female melon fly population. For more effective results these IPM methods need to be applied on wide area basis such as Yaya or cropping area.
Mealy bug was reported to infest papaya fruits in different parts of the country in the late 1980s. This insect is a invasive pest rapidly infesting many species crops. However, main host is papaya. Due to its rapid multiplication rate and wide host range insecticide control is not successful. In other countries where this insect was found, the population of mealy bug is kept at lower level because of the action of the predators and parasite. DOA has already released a effective parasite obtained from United State Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service parasite rearing facility, in areas where this pest was found.
In Dec. 2018, another pest Fall Army Worm was observed infesting maize in all major maize growing areas. It was also found to infest sugar cane. This pest is native to America. Outside its native habitat it was first found in Central and Western Africa in 2016, and then quickly spread to sub Saharan Africa and in 2018 it was reported from many Indian states. It is a good example of trans boundary movement as the adult moth is capable of flying hundred of kilometres per night. Also, in the absence of native parasites and predators, other control methods based on IPM concepts need to be developed. Initially, experience of small farmers of South America, where the pest is endemic will be valuable tool for the development of control methods. However, research and farmer awareness programme is of paramount importance to develop more realistic management programme for this new pest.
Taking IPM into farmers’ fields
Many believe the concepts developed in IPM is too complex for the average farmer to understand because it involves counting, record keeping and various calculation for economic threshold determination. Hence, farmers need to be introduced to simpler approach to study the crop growth, pest infestation and natural enemy abundance. This is achieved by a group-based learning process. This is known as the Farmers’ Field School. According to this method around 20- 25 rice farmer groups collectively, study the progress of their crop from establishment to harvesting. For this farmers meet together once a week and observe their fields and share their experience with respect to growth of the crops and those factors that limit the growth including the action of pests, and abundance of natural enemies, etc. Depending on the outcome of the observation of their fields, decision will be taken to take action if the pest population grows up. This is a learner centred process where the agriculture instructor is only a facilitator. The impact of this programme was felt by the increases in yield, reduced insecticide use and favourable bio-diversity factors like abundance of predators and parasites.
Apart from government extension, NGOs such as Sarvodaya, CARE and Sri Lanka Red Cross have provided their support on IPM by conducting training programmes on IPM, but, focusing mainly on paddy.
A comprehensive pesticide control procedure in the form of pesticide law 33 of 1981 is in existence in the country, but enforcement is low due to several reasons. Often advice regarding pesticide selection was given by the pesticide seller in the village. As a result farmers may select the wrong pesticide, Over use of pesticide is common. They do not use correct dose and dilution. Often they apply pesticide even before appearance of the pest. Also, they do not follow correct post harvest interval. Although, provisions are available to mitigate these shortcomings via the pesticide law, the best way to tackle is through farmer training based on a good extension program.
Under the pesticide law, every product imported to the country has to be registered. Further field monitoring and enforcement of correct use, laboratory testing for quality and residues, imports regulations in the form of banning and restricting the pesticide are carried out. Over the years, the use of WHO Class1 pesticides has been prohibited and these products banned.
Instead of conventional pesticide, there are several specific pesticide registered in the country having low toxicity to humans. Some of these products affect insect hormone system and hence specific to them. Also, available in the market are several neem based botanical pesticide which are effective particularly on caterpillar pests. Additionally, there are bacterial insecticides which result in gastric problems in insects. Insect become sick and die when they consume leaves treated with these insecticide. These insecticides act on few species of insects and easily break down when exposed to light and other environmental factors. Hence, these products are not very popular with farmers although they are safe and environmentally friendly. For these specific pesticides, there are opportunities for use in home gardens and in greenhouses
Future development and promotion of IPM
There are several shortcomings in the development and implementation of IPM. There is a dearth of trained extension workers to deal with large number of farmers involved in crop production. To address this issue, leader farmers can be trained in IPM methods and they can be used to train other farmers in a Yaya or in a village. The government extension workers can be facilitators in this training programme as explained above with respect to Farmers’ Field School method of training. However, more intensive training programme for extension workers covering many aspects of IPM and successful experience of IPM particularly from rice IPM programme needs to be integrated into their training curriculum. Farmer field school programme has been adopted in many countries the world over and the knowledge is shared in the form of reports, videos, manuals, field guides and podcasts. Hence there is lot of avenues to incorporate relevant information in the training curriculum of the extension workers in our country.
Consumer awareness of environmental and health hazards of pesticides and particularly of the persistence in the environment needs to be created to reject food contaminated with pesticides. For this facilities for pesticide residue analysis needs to be improved.
Field demonstration of IPM methods with the involvement of researchers, extension workers and farmers needs to be established. By following IPM methods used in these demonstration, farmers can pick up the most appropriate IPM methods to test in their fields. More investment is needed to promote innovative research such as melon fly control as explained above. Participatory IPM trials and development of simplified IPM packages for major pests and diseases are also necessary for popularising IPM among farmers.
Globalisation of trade and travel, and introduction of improved planting materials can cause accidental introduction of pests. Papaya mealy bug and fall army worm are recent examples of such pest introduction. Facilities available at the plant quarantine station need to be improved for identification of pests of quarantine significance.
There is also an increasing interest in utilising information technology in agriculture to help extension advisers and other intermediaries in delivering up to date information to farmers to manage their crops. Development Mobile Apps that work offline for early warning and surveillance of pests helps farmers make quick decisions for the management of pests.
Author is Former Entomologist, FAO Rice IPM project’s Research coordinator, Director Horticulture Research and Development Institute and Director General Department of Agriculture
Scholar, Advisor, Innovator and Great Friend
by AUSTIN FERNANDO
Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria, son of Queen’s Counsel NE Weerasooria, studied at Royal College, and entered the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, and won Harvard Memorial Prize and the Governor General’s Prize. He graduated in Law from Peradeniya, with First-Class Honours, and was later called to the Bar, as an Advocate.
I have known and associated with Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria in different capacities. First, I knew him as a pioneer Law Educator at Vidyodaya University. His students at Vidyodaya, and later even at the Post-Graduate Institute of Management, recall how he lectured, without even a short note in hand, attracting students’ attention, and enthusiasm. Additionally, he focused on teaching Commercial, Administrative, and Constitutional laws, and published texts in Sinhala, one on the Law of Contracts, another on Commercial Law.
His vast knowledge as an author was exhibited, mostly in Banking Law. Some of his publications were on Australian banking systems. Later, he delved into Buddhist Ecclesiastical Law, which produced a monumental work and a Treatise on Sri Lankan Statute Law and Judicial Decisions on Buddhist Temples and Temporalities.
His book ‘The Law Governing Public Administration in Sri Lanka,’ is a text that must be read by all public administrators and politicians. Whilst at Monash University, he wrote ‘Links between Sri Lanka and Australia: A Book about Sri Lankans (Ceylonese) in Australia’, dealing with Sri Lanka- Australia links.
With President JR Jayewardene in Office, Wickrema was appointed as the Secretary to the Ministry of Plan Implementation– a completely different role for him in public service. Working with him was also a novel experience and challenge for officers too, since he pushed them to the deep end to make quick, practical, non-traditional, sometimes unsavoury decisions for the benefit of the public.
He was the innovator of Integrated Rural Development Projects, for which he harnessed foreign assistance, and a performer, evaluator, programmer, and institution builder, proven by the establishment of Secretariats for Women, Children, Fertilizer, Nutrition, Population under his Ministry.
Sri Lanka Planning Service was made a professional service in 1985, for which the initiatives and support given by Wickrema were substantial. Accordingly, planners were made responsible for planning to achieve the goals of the respective institutions, formulate policies, strategies, and evaluate the development projects and programmes.
Wickrema was responsible for enhancing human resources among cadres through foreign exposures, which culminated with some officers obtaining post-graduate degrees, some even PhDs, and reaching apex ranks in public services, i.e. Secretaries of Ministries.
Specifically, his contribution to my work when I served as Government Agent, Nuwara Eliya was substantial. He was the guide, mentor, and sometimes savior. His involvement was on behalf of his brother-in-law Minister Gamini Dissanayake. Wickrema was instrumental in planning Nuwara Eliya through the establishment of Nuwara- Eliya Development Commissioners Committee, where I served as Chairman, with professionals as Commissioners. The initial planning was done by the Urban Development Authority.
He was the key organizer of the Spring Festival in Nuwara-Eliya. I remember how he planned the city and revived the Car Racing event, after a lapse of some years. I remember Upali Wijewardena taking part in the first motor car road race. The new Motor-Cross racing event on the newly constructed track was added to the Mahagastota Hill Climb for motor racers. Motor-Cross racing spread to other areas later. He attended these events and enjoyed the great company.
A little-known fact about Wickrema is that the Sri Lanka Council for the Blind (as President) and Sri Lanka Federation of the Blind (as Advisor) still appreciate his services rendered to the blind community, especially in resource mobilization and housing.
He was a person with subtle wit and humour. While teaching, he used this talent, as a student has reminisced, for “easing the pressure and stress of learning.” His lighter vein utterances and behaviour in groups made him a more sought-after teacher, friend, relative, colleague, and boss. His wit and humour depicted by cartoons in political campaigning, (i.e. The Family Tree), left an indelible mark in canvassing votes at the 1977 Elections. It is recycled even today, making Wickrema’s talent eternal.
I am reminded that even regarding efficiency creation he had humorous comments. I remember his “evaluation of the efficiency” of public officers. He used to quip that when asked to produce relevant documentation within two days to send an officer on a foreign scholarship, knowing it would take weeks, he would swear with utmost certainty that the officer would fulfill the requirement within two days. The best litmus test of the efficiency of an officer is the offer of a foreign scholarship! He lamented that such efficiency is lacking to serve the people.
I have a personal regret. Just before I left for India as High Commissioner, he promised to visit me in Delhi with his dear wife Rohini, which he could not fulfill, bidding adieu in weeks. Hence, I missed his company, advice, wit, and humor before departure.
I may say, he was a great student, scholar, academic, educator, public officer, diplomat, social worker, an advisor, innovator, and above all a great friendly human being, who enjoyed life and made others enjoy too, with his friendship, and camaraderie. Sadly, we will miss him forever.
May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!
Ethiopia: War in Tigray
By Gwynne Dyer
“Love always wins. Killing others is a defeat,” said Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in June 2018, shortly after surviving a grenade attack at a rally in Meskel Square in the capital, Addis Ababa. How was he to know that just thirty months after saying that he would have to stop loving and start killing?
That’s the problem with being a reforming zealot who becomes Prime Minister: you have to deal with some really stubborn people, and sometimes it’s hard to shift them without a resort to force. That’s why Abiy launched an invasion of Tigray state on 4 November, and so far it’s been doing very well.
“The next phases are the decisive part of the operation, which is to encircle Mekelle using tanks, finishing the battle in the mountainous areas, and advancing to the fields,” Col. Dejene Tsegaye told the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation on 22 November.
Here we are only less than two weeks later, and the federal government’s troops have already captured Mekelle, a city of half a million people that is Tigray’s capital. It’s not clear how many people were hurt or killed in the fighting, but it went so fast that the butcher’s bill can’t be all that high.
In fact, it has all gone so well that Abiy Ahmed’s soldiers are probably thinking they might be home in time for Christmas. When Col. Dejene talked about “finishing the battle in the mountainous areas and advancing to the fields,” however, he was talking about the nine-tenths of Tigray that has seen no federal government troops at all, or at most a brief glimpse as they passed through.
Tigray is exactly the size of Switzerland, with about the same ratio of mountains to fields (although the mountains are somewhat lower). In other words, it is ideal guerilla territory, and a high proportion of the seven million Tigrayans are rural people who know the land. Moreover, they have long experience in fighting the central government’s troops.
That was the old central government, of course: the Communist dictatorship called the Derg, led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, that murdered the emperor and ruled the country with an iron fist from 1977 to 1991.
Tigrayans were the first ethnic group to rebel against Mengistu’s rule. They are only 6% of Ethiopia’s population, but the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was the most effective of the ethnically-based rebel groups that finally defeated the Derg.
The federal government that took over afterwards, called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), was formally a multi-ethnic alliance. In practice, however, TPLF cadres controlled most senior posts and prospered greatly as a result – a situation that continued until the EPRDF appointed Abiy Ahmed prime minister in 2018.
It was a non-violent revolution, conducted not in the streets but in ranks of the federal bureaucracy. Abiy was the ideal candidate: in religion and ethnicity he is Ethiopian everyman, with a Muslim Oromo father and a Christian Amhara mother. (In person he is Pentecostal Christian, and very devout.)
As a young man Abiy fought in the war against Eritrea; he has served as a senior intelligence official and knows where the bodies are buried; he is well educated and speaks Amharic, Afaan Oromo, Tigrinya and English fluently. His first and most important job was to prise the fingers of the Tigrayan elite off the levers of government without a civil war.
Unfortunately, Abiy’s approach – merging all the parties based on the various ethnic militias into a single ‘Prosperity Party’ – didn’t work. The resentful TPLF cadres refused to join, and gradually withdrew to their heartland in Tigray. They don’t yet openly advocate secession, but they do point out that they have that right under the current federal constitution.
Whether or not the shooting war began with an unprovoked attack by the Tigrayan militia on the federal army’s base in Mekelle at the start of last month, as Abiy’s spokesmen claim, it was bound to end up here. All Tigray’s cities have now been taken by federal troops, but almost none of the rural areas.
This could be a brilliant victory for the federal troops that puts a swift end to the fighting. It’s more likely to be the result of a decision by the TPLF leadership to skip the conventional battles they were almost bound to lose, and go straight to the long and bloody guerilla war that they might eventually win.
That would mean secession, in the end, for they can never win power back in Addis Ababa. The risk is that if the war goes on long enough, other major ethnic groups may break away from Ethiopia as well. Abiy’s loosening of the tight centralised control that prevailed under the emperor, the Derg and the TPLF has already unleashed ethnic and sectarian violence that has rendered 2 million Ethiopians homeless.
Abiy recently got a PhD in peace and security studies from Addis Ababa University, but he’ll be concentrating on the ‘security’ part for the foreseeable future.
Safety Equipment and Procedures and Exploding Fire Extinguishes
by Capt. G A Fernando MBA
RCyAF, SLAF, Air Ceylon, Air Lanka, SIA, SriLankan Airlines
Former SEP instructor/ Examiner Air Lanka
By law the Regulator Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL) requires all Airline Crew to annually undergo continuous training and achieving proficiency in Safety Equipment and Procedures (SEP). At the end of the training, also answer a written examination to prove to all and sundry that the particular Flight Crew Member has sufficient SEP knowledge to continue serving in the Cabin or Flight Deck of that Airline, for another year. The SEP questions were relatively easy (no tricks) but each crew member had to score over 80% and carry out mandatory, practical proficiency tests such as operation of aircraft doors and Emergency exits, conduct evacuations, Life Raft operations (in the swimming pool), know the location and use of emergency equipment such as megaphones, Crash Axes, Asbestos Gloves, Emergency Locater Transmitters (ELT’s), the administration of Oxygen, First Aid and use of equipment such as smoke hoods and fire extinguishers to combat Cabin smoke and Fires, The airline is usually delegated to carry out these duties and functions at the behest of the Civil Aviation Authority.
The first year after Air Lanka was established (September 1979), crew members had to go to Singapore Airlines or get the instructors across to Colombo to carry out these checks on behalf of Air Lanka. After about the second year of existence, it was decided that a team SEP instructors/ examiners would be appointed ‘in house’ to carry out this training and mandatory checks. Three of us from the ‘Flight Deck’ crew were appointed to the team. They were First Officer Elmo Jayawardene, Flight Engineer Gerrard Jansz and yours truly. We had, had some experience in crew SEP training in Air Ceylon.
We were sent to the British Airways (BA) Flight Training (Cranebank), UK, during our regular stay overs in London, to undergo refresher training, so that we could incorporate some of the BA curricula in our own (Air Lanka) programs. The then Air Lanka Manager Operations had been an ex BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) Captain. As a direct result of our visit to BA, the then airline doctor (Dr Mrs Sherene Wilathgamuwa) was inducted to the SEP team to lecture the ‘troops’ on not only First Aid but also on delivering babies, with limited facilities on board! I believe that this information has been extremely useful many times during the last 40 years of Air Lanka. This was not taught to us in Air Ceylon. The training curriculum was developed by the SEP team.
The early days of Air Lanka wasn’t easy. While an operational profit was made, the ‘debt servicing’ put an unbearable strain on the overall profitability. We had neither a designated training department nor proper equipment. Our ‘wet drill’ constituted jumping into the pool in shirts and trousers for the boys and ‘made up’ Sarees without the ‘fall’ for the Girls, wearing life jackets of course. Initially the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) Katunayake pool was used and subsequently the pools of the two hotels down Katunayake airport road were used till Air Lanka got its own pool. We didn’t even have a permanently deployed Slide/ Raft either for teaching purposes. It all cost money. I was the Instructor in charge of the ‘wet drill’. In contrast SIA I worked for subsequently, had a pool with a ‘wave maker’ to give a realistic experience. There was no doubt Air Lanka at that point of time was ‘pinching pennies’ where crew SEP training was concerned.
To provide fire fighting experience to the Flight Crews we were forced to use regular Industrial Fire Extinguishing equipment to keep the costs down. That was acceptable since the basic fire fighting principles were the same. The fire fighting part of the training was carried out by the Ground Safety Section Instructors who were mainly ex SLAF types. A few months before, Lalantha one of the Chief Stewards was practicing the use of a Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguisher on a fire and the extinguisher exploded and flew off his hand, narrowly missing Leone who was just behind him. The on-board extinguishers were much smaller, lighter and more manageable than the industrial ones. A complaint was filed by me, but treated by the ‘Management’ as a one off case! It seemed as if one swallow doesn’t make a summer! The extinguisher had been certified as serviced. The Administrative Executive in charge of SEP those days was a young man who had a degree in Marine Biology and perhaps was clueless on safety issues and couldn’t champion our cause. We were all part time Instructors.
The annual recurrent training programme took two days. On one particular day, Chief Stewardess Jayantha and I were the instructors in charge. When it came to the Fire Fighting exercise, we handed over students of our class to the Air Lanka Ground Instructors and proceeded to the parking apron (opposite the Terminal Building), to check out a Lockheed L1011 ‘Tri-Star’ aircraft which was newly leased, by Air Lanka. It was a pre-owned, aircraft that had arrived the day before. Unfortunately, the locations of and the make of emergency equipment in the same type of aircraft (L-1011) differed from airline to airline. Therefore in the name of air safety and standardisation, it was important to resolve matters before the said aircraft saw service on the line on regular revenue flight services. It was a big deal as all Flight Crew had to know by memory as to where the specific locations of safety equipment were, so that when a ‘push’ came to a ‘shove’, no time would be wasted by the crew members involved, looking for these essential items. It could be a matter of life and death.
I was not too happy sending the participant boys and girls by themselves for fire fighting and had an uneasy feeling. On other hand, our task too was also extremely important. So it was a case of ‘risk management’ and gave in.
While we were checking out the new addition to our L 1011 Tri-Star fleet, we received a frantic message saying that another water type extinguisher had exploded and the injured had been removed to the Air Force Hospital across the runway to the Northern side.
Jayantha and I rushed to the SLAF Base Hospital in her ‘Mini -moke’ the long way around, up the Airport Road and via the 20th milepost main entrance along the Negombo road and found two crew members injured and in shock. Steward Senaka who had got the wheel shaped handle smack on his face, had injuries in the same shape and Naomal too had some minor injuries. We were assured by the Air Force doctor, Dr Narmasena Wickremasinghe that injuries were not too serious. We stayed there till the arrival of the next of kin who had been informed and went back to Office to meet Mr Wilmot Jayewardena, the Air Lanka Senior Manager Inflight Services.
When Jayantha and I sheepishly walked into his office he gave us the silent treatment initially and then softly declared that being responsible for the wellbeing of the participants, at least one of us Instructors should have been present when fire fighting was going on, even under the supervision of the Ground Safety Instructors. We accepted our mistake and defused the situation. When I look back now I am amazed as to how we coped with such limited resources to keep the National Carrier going. Safety Experts today, recommend that during risky activity, we should trust our ‘gut feeling’. It is usually correct as there is a connection between the brain and the gut resulting in feelings like ‘butterflies’ in the stomach. Needless to say the lesson was learnt.
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