Sepala Ekanayake was born June 3, 1949, in Karatota, Tissamaharama. He gained international notoriety after hijacking an Alitalia Boeing 747 with 340 passengers on June 30, 1982.
Ekanayake attended a village school and Yodakandiya Vidyalaya in Hambantota. As a child he ran away from his father’s home and stayed with the headmaster of Ananda Primary for six months.
In 1972 Ekanayake moved to West Germany. In Germany he formed a romantic relationship with an Italian woman named Anna Aldrovandi. They were married in 1977. In 1980 they relocated to Modena, Italy and had a son named Free Ekanayake.
Ekanayake’s Italian visa expired some time after his son’s birth and he was denied a new one by Italian authorities. They suggested instead that he return to Sri Lanka and apply for visa with the Italian Embassy in Colombo. Ekanayake then learned that he had to wait six years before he could obtain a visa. Angry at his situation he concocted a plan to hijack an Italian plane and put forth his demands straight to the Italian government. On June 30, 1982, Ekanayake traveled to the New Delhi airport with some of his friends and awaited the arrival of an Alitalia Boeing 747 from Rome on its way to Tokyo. Upon its arrival, Ekanayake obtained a rear seat on the plane.
Ekanayake waited until the plane reached a level of 35,000 feet and then issued his demands to the pilot in a letter. He wanted to have his wife and son brought to the Bangkok-Don Muang International Airport and 300,000 US dollars. He also instructed that the plane was to land at the Bangkok airport, leave the doors closed, issue the demands to the Italian authorities, and communicate only through radio. If his orders were not followed Ekanayake would blow up the plane with the “most sophisticated bombs manufactured in Italy.
The chief pilot George Amarosa immediately dropped to 25,000 feet and headed to Bangkok. In a few hours Anna, Free and the ransom were on the way to the city. In 30 hours the transaction was completed and Ekanayake released the passengers of the plane. He now had to figure out where he would go with the money and his family.
The Sri Lankan ambassador in Bangkok Manel Abeysekera assured Ekanayake that he could return to Sri Lanka without any fear. Later, she denied that she had made this statement.
Ekanayake reluctantly did and the Italian government demanded that he be handed over to them. Public opinion in Sri Lanka opposed this move; some in Sri Lanka even deemed Ekanayake a hero. Eventually he was arrested in Galle and sent to Welikada Prison. Sri Lanka would try him in their courts. Anna and Free returned safely to Italy.
At that time, there were no existing laws against hijacking in Sri Lanka and the parliament had to pass some before Ekanayake could be tried. He was tried before High Court Judge J.J.S.A Dias Upawansa Yapa and was represented by lawyer Ran Banda Seneviratne. Ekanayake was sentenced to five years in jail.
Sepala Ekanayake apparently participated in the second massacre of Tamils at Welikade prison on July 27, 1983, as witnessed by Army Commando Squadron Commander Major Sunil Peiris.
In jail Ekanayake tried his hand at writing. He was released in 1987. Ekanayake married again to English teacher Yasanganee Madupali and has two children: Sally and Wirama. He now conducts a 4WD business in Nuwara Eliya while residing in Battaramulla. In 1994 he campaigned for the People’s Alliance and wrote a book titled Uta saha Thota.