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.