The hijacker’s tale
25 years down the line
Twenty-five years ago on June 30, 1982, a 33-year-old Sri
Lankan young man hit the media headlines all over the world,
having hijacked an Italian airplane. The hijacker was married to
a 29-year-old Italian woman and was the father of a
Having hijacked the aircraft and embarrassed the Italian state,
he demanded his son Free and his wife Anna from the Italian
Hijacking airplanes has now become a criminal act that is mainly
committed in order to realise political goals and is a growing
menace to the international community.
Sepala Ekanayake from southern Sri Lanka may be the first person
who hijacked a plane for personal demands. There was no
legislation in Sri Lanka to deal with such crimes until July
1982 since it was an unknown crime in the island.
Ekanayake is now a 58-year-old, mature man who is married for
the second time and the father of a son and a daughter, from his
second wife Yasangi, who is a school teacher.
His eldest son, Free is a 29-year-old computer engineer who is
attending the German University with the goal of becoming an
environmentalist for the European Union. Daughter Sally and son
Virama are still students.
So what prompted Ekanayake to hijack the plane? The Nation was
able to pose this question, among others, to Ekanayake in an
Following are excerpts:
By Stanley Samarasinghe
Q: What prompted you to hijack the plane?
A: I wanted to live together with my son Free and wife Anna.
I did it because of the love I had for my son and my wife.
Q: Why? What was the matter with regard to your son and wife?
A: It is a long story. I am southern Sri Lankan. My
principal objective in hijacking the Alitalia plane was to teach
the Italian government a lesson for depriving me the
companionship and affection of my wife and custody of son Free.
Q: What made you to go to Italy?
A: In 1973 I left Sri Lanka, seeking employment. First I
went to West Germany, where I worked for three years as a
labourer and earned about 600 Deutsch Marks a month. At the end
of 1976, I made friends with some Italians in Germany and came
to Italy. It was my friend Paul who helped me in Italy. I worked
on a farm close to the city of Modena.
A friend of mine introduced me to a girl named Anna Aldrovandi.
She was a factory worker. Anna and I fell in love and started
living together. After two weeks, both of us came to Sri Lanka
and stayed with a friend of mine – Dickman Gunawardana of
Bandurupawatta Midigama, Ahangama.
Q: Were the two of you married when you visited Sri Lanka?
A: No. After we returned to Italy, we registered our
marriage. In the year 1978, Free was born.
Q: Did Anna’s parents give their consent to the marriage?
A: They protested, but we married anyway. Anna was able to
obtain employment after the marriage and I was able to get a
residence visa, which had to be renewed annually.
Q: How was Anna’s father employed?
A: He was a carpenter.
Q: Why did you name your son Free?
A: Anna agreed to that name.
Q: It is an unusual name. Did you have any reason for
A: No reason for it, but Anna did not protest against it
Q: Why did the Italian government refuse to extend your visa
even though you and Anna were happily married?
A: It happened like this – an Italian who had recently
visited Sri Lanka was speaking in loud, disparaging terms about
the Sri Lankan administration and the habits of Sri Lankan
people. I got annoyed and had an argument with him. In the
course of that argument, which took place at a restaurant where
beer was being consumed, I threw the contents of a beer mug at
the Italian’s face.
That person was a close relation of a director of police in the
city of Modena. I believe this was the reason for the Italian
government to refuse to extend my visa.
Q: Did your troubles begin when the Italian government
refused to extend your resident visa?
A: In those young days I used to take hasty decisions. Now I
realise that that was wrong.
Q: Weren’t there quarrels between you and Anna and wasn’t she
A: There were some family problems.
Q: Then you came to Sri Lanka with your son?
Q: Then you invited her to Sri Lanka?
A: She came to Sri Lanka with her brother Claudio and stayed
at Bay Beach Hotel, Weligama, and contacted me. She told me to
bring the child to the hotel, to be with her. She told me that
all the matters with regard to his visa had been settled. I took
the child to the hotel. The next day, when I went to the hotel,
Anna and her brother had left for Italy. It was with the support
of the Italians that Anna left Sri Lanka with the child.
Q: What followed thereafter?
A: I tried to get a visa from Italian Embassy, but they
refused to give me a visa and told me to get one from Rome. Then
I thought of hijacking the plane.
I was able to get US$ 700 in foreign exchange and on June 15,
1982 I left for India, from Talaimannar to Rameswaram. In Delhi
I contacted a friend and travelled to Bombay, having planned the
hijack, and got on the Alitalia flight from Delhi on June 29.
After the plane took off, I contacted my friend who promised to
bring me some explosives and he gave me instructions as to where
they were hidden. I found the handbag with bombs in the form of
torch batteries, which were connected with wires.
Q: How many bombs were there?
A: Nine or 10. I went to the toilet and connected the
batteries according to my friend’s instructions.
Q: In the trial against you, it was revealed the explosives
were never traced and that the threat to blow up the Italian
plane was a gigantic hoax. What do you have to say in this
A: That is what they say. (smiles)
Q: What happened to the bombs?
A: Couldn’t I have flushed them down the toilet?
Q: How did your friend manage to take those bombs inside the
A: You cannot take bombs on board a plane if they are taken
in the form of bombs.
Q: Do you mean to say that chemicals were taken separately
and the bombs were then made?
A: It is like this. For example, take your pen. You can take
the tip separately, the carbon separately, but you can join them
Q: Thereafter what happened?
A: I handed over some papers to air hostess Baba Tomaco to
be given to the pilot.
Those were the papers in which I sent my message to the pilot.
They stated that my son and wife were residing at Via Delgi
Esposti No. 11, 41018 San Casiro Modena, that my wife was
working in Asilo Nido, that my son was studying in San Cesario,
that I have a problem with my in-laws, that the authorities were
not allowing me to go to Italy and that I wanted my wife and
I demanded that my wife and son be brought to me with US$
300,000, and stated that if they did not agree to my demands, I
was capable of blasting up the plane with the explosives I had
When Pilot Giorgio Amorosa received it, they examined the papers
and realised that there was a threat to blast the plane with
explosives if the demands of the hijacker were not met.
In the papers I described the harassment by the Italian
authorities, depriving me of my wife and son. In those papers I
informed them to bring my wife and son to Bangkok with the
ransom of US$ 300,000.
Amorosa came to me he and saw me seated near the door,
signalling to somebody. When the plane landed at Bangkok
Airport, Amorosa informed the passengers that a person board was
threatening to blow up the plane with bombs and warned them not
to open the door. There were 261 passengers on board the plane.
My demands were conveyed to the Alitalia staff at Bangkok. By
this time Amorosa spoke to me several times and I explained
everything to him, about how the Italian government was not
allowing me to reside in Italy.
Q: Were the crew on the plane helpful to you?
A: I believe they helped me unofficially.
Q: What stance did the Sri Lankan government take?
A: They took legal action against me and sent Anna and my
son back to Italy. I was tried in the Colombo High Court on two
charges; one was hijacking Alitalia Boeing 747 and the second
was retaining US$ 299,700 dishonestly, knowing that it was
Q: What was the High Court verdict?
A: The High Court sentenced me to a simple life sentence for
the first count for three years and a rigorous sentence for the
Q: Did you appeal against the sentence?
A: Yes. The Appeal Court reduced my life sentence from five
years rigorous imprisonment to two years rigorous imprisonment,
for the second count to run concurrently. The Supreme Court
dismissed the appeal. I came out of the prison in three years.
Q: Did you contact Anna after that?
A: No. She informed me that she had divorced me and wanted
have nothing to do with me.
Q: When did you marry for the second time?
A: January 14, 1990 I married Yasangi, an English teacher.
Sally and Virama are my children from that marriage.
Q: Your son Free comes to see you yearly, doesn’t he?
A: Yes, it was Yasangi and the children who got in touch
with him. Every year they send birthday greeting cards to Free.
In 1997, Free came to Sri Lanka to see me. He spends the month
of December with me each year. Free and my other children get on