Flash of red, flash of yellow and off it went. Was it a bird? Was it a plane? Many, including two young boys who saw the strange object in their school playground in Bandarawela are convinced it was a UFO, Tharuka Dissanaike and Michelle Henricus report.
Indika Sampath Dissanayake habitually comes early to school. Thursday, April 30, 1998, he arrived at the Adikaram Primary School at 6.30 am. He left his school bag in the year 3 classroom when a slight but sharp noise caught his attention.
He thought that something was collapsing outside the room. But as he came out a strange sight met his 8 year old eyes. A large disc shaped object with legs was on their playground, just below his classroom. Then as he watched, it flashed bright red and yellow lights and took off at a frenzied speed.
"It turned around once and flew sideways, above the jak tree and went into the sky." The time was exactly 7:43 am. Indika has not heard about flying saucers before.
His description of that morning's sight is childlike, frank and according to his teachers, his story has not changed at all in the past week. Indika takes a stub of chalk and draws a picture of what he saw. Simple, even cartoonish but with vivid detail.
Sharing this unusual sight with him that morning was Harsha Ellawalagedera. This 10 year old is regarded by his teachers to be a very promising candidate for the year five scholarship exam his August. Harsha, as a senior student in the Primary School, was entrusted with the task of opening the doors of all classrooms early morning.
He was unlocking the classrooms that flanked the playground when a slight noise made him look back. He could not believe his eyes when he saw the disc shaped object that suddenly flashed bright red and yellow lights.
It disappeared before my eyes," he recalls. "A second later I saw it in the sky. It climbed higher and floated off over the mountain," Harsha points southwards. Harsha says the object was quite large - measuring maybe 8 feet in diameter and 7 feet in height. Both boys said that it made a slight, soft purring noise as it flew off. But in the sky it glided noiselessly.
Harsha's friend, Priyanjith also saw the disc shaped object as it flew high into the skies. The flying object is no stranger to these youngsters. They claim it flies over their school quite often, early mornings. In the sky it takes on a curious tubular shape with a single upright fin. The children have nicknamed it koka (stork). But this was the first time the craft had landed.
"I have a problem. At assembly, the students are distracted, they all look up at the sky," the Principal joked. But jokes apart, the two children who saw the 'UFO' are very much in the limelight, sought after by UFO enthusiasts and science fiction writers.
But being a primary school in Bandarawela the importance of preserving the 'landing site' was not considered. By the time the adults got to the site most imprints in the sandy pitch had been erased by hundreds of little feet.
The principal of the Bandarawela Madya Maha Vidyalaya, Jayantha Wickremasinghe managed to get some photographs of the curious flower shaped marks that remained in the sand.
But the large, shoe shaped marks and the deep churn marks in the sand - which Harsha and Indika describe seeing on the playground right after the object took off - were mostly gone by the time teachers came.
At the site also was part of a white, dead insect like a large locust. The insect a stranger to these parts, had also been lost in trying to preserve it by drying its remnants on a rock. The people of Bandarawela take this news in their relaxed stride - mostly disbelieving that the two young children actually witnessed a strange phenomenon.
But, if one is led to believe that the 'UFO' has a partiality to the Adikaram school, it is really not so. Many others, including two doctors have been witness to strange sights in Bandarawela town during the last two weeks.
The next most vivid description is offered by another student, this time from St. Thomas' College. Sheran de Silva, 16, was walking home from his grandmother's home when, near St. Joseph's grounds, his attention was diverted by a large column of bright light coming down from the sky.
The source of the light, he says, was a shadowy disc shaped object. He said that as he stood and watched a very bright red-yellow light, was beamed onto his body. Scared, Sheran ran all the way home. "I knew instantly that it was a space ship." This was 7. 45 p.m. April 30, 1998.
That same night, Dr. P. Ramachandran of the Bandarawela District Hospital was driving home from the town when he noticed a curious skyward light. Dismissing it as a flare from the Diyatalawa camp, Dr. Ramachandran and his wife proceeded home. But as they neared the hospital, the light appeared to come from a lonely plot of land behind the AMO quarters.
"The light was strange because it went straight into the sky, like a laser beam. It was very powerful and did not disperse out." The doctor and his wife also describe the light as a red-yellow beam. But they found patients waiting for Dr. Ramachandran at home and could not go and investigate the matter further. His colleague, Dr. Kamani Pushpa Kumara, DMO, Diyatalawa hospital was star gazing with her three children in their garden, mid last month when they all saw a disc shaped object flying overhead. It was flashing red, yellow, green lights.
"But it was night. I cannot be sure of what I saw," Dr. Pushpa Kumara said. Could it have been a helicopter or an aeroplane? "No, definitely not. Here in Bandarawela we are used to planes, jets and helicopters because of the Diyatalawa camp. But this was different. I cannot say it was a UFO. But it was unlike anything I've seen before."
The Bandarawela Police cannot explain the abnormal sightings over their town. They dismiss the suggestion that it could relate to some military activity stemming from the Diyatalawa camp. Few people, with scientific know how, had actually been to Adikaram school to check on the site. UFO researchers, Raviand Saliya de Silva contacted the Principal and requested him to keep an eye on Harsha and Indika lest they show any physical or psychological changes after the incident.
Two young UFO enthusiasts from Bandarawela, Ruwan Liyanage and Suranga Ediriweera who followed a course at the Arthur C. Clarke Centre, were planning to set up camp in the Adikaram school and watch the sky for any trace of the flying mystery. In town nowadays you find quite a few people sky gazing. How unfair, adults say, that only children see it. But for Indika and Harsha the novelty of it, after endless description, has long worn off.
Indika still comes to school at the crack of dawn but the 'UFO' has never landed again. Harsha has bigger things on his mind. He has to prepare for his scholarship exam. UFO or not, life must go on."
From The Sunday Times Sri Lanka May 10, 1998