Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Upali Wijewardene – plane went missing 30 years ago today

Whilst there are many theories about what happened, the one I stick to is the one that due to some malfunction in the Lear Jet he was in the pressure on the cabin malfunctioned and all the occupants became unconscious until the plane ran out of fuel as it was flying on autopilot and crashed into the sea. That is because there were three subsequent instances when it happened to Lear Jets including the death of a famous Golfer in one such incident.

There is also another theory that it was shot down by Indonesian missile mistaking it to be unauthorized. However that too is compatible with my original theory, that if it was being flown on auto-pilot with all on board unconscious, then it is likely that it had strayed into classified airspace, and hence the shooting resulted.

I was in the UK at the time, working as a Chartered Accountant in London for an international accounting firm, and recall being very upset about it and relieved at the same time that my father who frequently accompanies him was not on that flight at that time. My father would then have been 55, the same age I am now.

More than would be the case for others, Upali Wijewardene had a direct influence on our lives, as my father was his financial advisor, and unlike many professionals today, never invoiced/billed/charged him for his time and work, nor requested a retainer. His accounting firm performed many of the Accounting and Secretarial services at the time for the various group companies and coincidentally was Auditor of Kandos before Upali bought it. I remember going to the Kandos factory in Kundasale when I was schooling in Trinity, and used to come away with chunks of Chocolate courtecy of the then MD. That is another story.

My father’s personality was and still is, of getting enormous pleasure from anyone’s success, where if he was able to contribute to that in some way, that was payment enough. No wonder his life has touched the whole gammet of businessmen in Sri Lanka, with Sir Chittampalam Gardiner being his first client, when he ventured out on his own around in the early 1950s and he has just retired at the end of January 2013 when he reached his 85th year having been an adviser to Ajita de Zoysa of AMW and Associated Electricals, but latterly of Union Bank fame. My mother being a more rational human being, who was left to put food on the table, influenced Upali direct pay for me and my brother’s boarding school education in England as much as a decade previously. I know my whole annual school fees, boarding fees and incidentals did not amount to more than 1000 pounds, per annum, it was still a lot of money at the time, and my parents did not have that kind of money and in the middle of the Sirima Bandaranayake regime where one required an exit permit to leave Sri Lanka, was a luxury few people could indulge in.

In those days whenever my father came to the UK with Upali, after their business dealings in the City of London, (they always stayed at the London Hilton) and attendance at races at Ascot or Newmarket they used to drive up to Cambridge where I was at school and we would go to an Indian restaurant for a meal. Upali went to Queens College, Cambridge and so we walked around the Backs and into Queens on the off occasion.

Sometimes on their way to Newmarket for the races, or to meet Upali’s horse trainer, Robert Armstrong, Susan Piggot’s brother, they would drop into Cambridge for a short visit to see us, as it was only a few miles away and on route.

Robert Armstrong trained Upali’s horses in the UK and Susan Piggot’s husband Lester sometimes rode his horses. It was fun knowing that we had a Sri Lankan who could indulge in these typically Upper Class British pursuits.

Stories are abound of both his audacity of thinking big and achieving the impossible, but he also believed he would not live to a ripe old age, and therefore was in a hurry to things others would contemplate for before beginning.

His contribution as the First Director General of the Greater Colombo Economic Commission will be remembered as the precursor to the BOI and beginning of foreign investment in Sri Lanka that helped with the beginning of the economic take off we have experienced in Sri Lanka since.

It would therefore be safe to say that, but for Upali Wijewardene, my life would have been very different. I cannot say if it would have been better or worse, but definitely not as varied and adventurous as it has been.

I knew the person more than many alive today, and he was a chain smoking effusive personality who always found every incident a matter for a good laugh!

Just for the record, I would like to mention the ties we have had to various generations of the Wijewardenes, where my Grandfather HAJ was both an Editor of the Ceylon Daily News, and the Observer for DR Wijewardene’s Lake House working directly under the big man, whilst my grand aunt, HAJs elder sister was married to the DR’s eldest brother. In turn in the next generation, my father Upatissa worked with Upali for very many years. In turn I am now with DR’s grandson Ruwan Wijewardene MP as a coordinating secretary.

None of these things in life are planned or predictable, and they happen by chance. However these chance encounters are for purposes which we cannot foresee and only time will tell after the fact on its consequence.

I am sure that Upali will be looking at us today and having a great laugh at the unpredictable outcomes of peoples and personalities he left behind, and hoping that one day a Wijewardene would again have a profound positive impact on the prosperity of Sri Lanka in the foreseeable future.


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Anonymous said...

my idol is upali. even though i was born in 1981 and dont have any memory about him i like him very much. i have separate paper cutting about him at my desk. so you are mr upatissa hulugallas son? great to read your articles. is there any way i can get more information about upali from u. may be contact u? u can contact me at

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Unknown said...

With the help of this missing Malasian plane search, I hope they find some clue of the Upali who died when his private jet disappeared in 1983 from the same area after leaving Malasia to return home!!

That incident was a bad luck for the whole sri lankan nation. country would have been much different to what it is now.

Thank you for your article...much enjoy reading it although I'm still upset of Upali's death. I was only 5 when he died!!

GJ said...

Although I am younger than Upali, I always give merits to this great hero Upali Wijewarrdhana. Because When my industry was very small , Upali news papers helped me to expand my industries. Now many people get salary and cure hunger by working my industry. Surely Merits come to great Upali, wherever you are , you will get merits forever.

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