Suicide Dramsa inside SriLankan Flight UL505

by Tilak S. Fernando

Who could have expected that when SriLankan airways make it a point to make special announcements of apology for supplying plastic cutlery, when serving food during their in-flight service, that a passenger finds a sharp weapon to cut himself to bleed to death in a suicide attempt?

SriLankan flight UL505 which took off to air from Colombo at 2.30 a.m on early hours of Sunday 19th January 2002 was regarded as a normal comfortable flight. As the sleepy passengers started to dose off and some were snoring away even ignoring their refreshments and meals, the commotion of a passenger locked inside a toilet for an unusual duration became suspicious to the cabin crew. Finally, when the door was forced opened by a member of the cabin crew, 49-year-old William Bernard Gates (British national) was found bleeding profusely through a gape opening of his slashed throat.

The Captain of the aircraft picked up four Sri Lankan doctors among the 290 passengers on board and they attended to the bleeding man and stitched up his wound. It was later revealed that this particular passenger had locked himself in the toilet, broken the toilet mirror, and cut his throat with a piece of glass. As the blood started pouring down and spread to the isle of the aircraft nearly almost all the supply of blankets were used to blot the floods of blood from the passenger.

As a telephone call reached London at 04.22 a.m Sunday morning from the troubled stricken aircraft, from a passenger I was supposed to pick up at Heathrow at 8.42 a.m, the plane was flying on route Istanbul seeking permission to land at the closest airport which took approximately one hour and 15 minutes.. The patient was finally taken to the Atakoy Hospital in Istanbul and the flight continued to London after a delay of 5 hours and 48 minutes. Consequently, the flight, which turned around to Colombo from London, was also delayed by two hours.

The UL flight 505 which was due to land at 8.42 a.m finally landed at 11.17 with all the other passengers exhausted. It was a common consensus among the passengers who disembarked the plane at Heathrow that SriLankan airways would have to meet a staggering bill covering additional landing costs at Istanbul airport, refuelling costs and compensation for many other transit passenger who were in the plane and missed their flights in the morning from Heathrow.

Another SriLankan Colombo bound plane on 12 January 2002 after taking off from Heathrow airport had to come back to Heathrow having travelled up to the boarders of Italy 'due to technical problems' and also to avoid such colossal expenses having to land at Italy and refuelling again. The passengers were held up for a day in a hotel in London until the defect was put right and the flight landed in Colombo delayed by 24 hours .

SriLankan London-Colombo flight which was to leave at 21.40 hrs on Wednesday 30 January 2002 was delayed once again due to the incoming Colombo-London flight getting held up ' due to some medical reasons' Finally the passengers were given 6 food vouchers and the plane finally took off at 12.01 a.m on 31st January, and landing at Bandaranaike airport nearly 3 hours late.

When the national airline was flying the Sri Lankan Airways flag UL flights managed to earn a reputation as being ' Usually Late'. With a modern fleet of airbuses, it is being questioned as to why such delays are constantly occurring (except in the suicide case of course) now ?. Some travellers of SriLankan are of the opinion that their new routing system - ie. London Colombo flight having to go through Male ( Maldive Islands ) is the main course for this !.

During the first two weeks of January 2002, passengers of SriLankan who had gone to Colombo during December holidays were held up for considerable amount of time due to non availability of seats. Many school children missed their valuable lessens during the first part of January and also many who had to report to work on time had to undergo severe frustration and disappointment as the airline at times had to off load overbooked passengers!

Some who managed to come to London from Colombo via Male seemed to think that the flights are full from Colombo to Male usually, but the planes fly with many vacant seats from Male to London while the desperate passengers are stranded in Colombo! It is hoped that when the new Government is giving an assurance to review the ' Airlanka' deal that these grey areas will also be focussed to avoid disappointment and frustration of passengers who pay good money as airfares to SriLankan, especially during peak period travel in December.