A young Indonesian air traffic controller stayed on duty as the earthquake shook the building, to make sure one last aircraft escaped Friday’s deadly disaster. He was fatally injured fleeing afterwards.
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Anthonius Gunawan Agung was the last person remaining in the air traffic control tower at Mutiara Sis Al Jufri Airport in Palu when the 7.7 quake hit the city on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
While his colleagues ran for their lives as the tower swayed violently from the shocks, Agung, 21, remained steadfast to ensure that Batik Air Flight 6321 got off the ground, as deep fissures and cracks began to appear on the runway.
When the plane took off to safety, further trembling hit the tower. Fearing that he would be trapped beneath the rubble, Agung jumped the four stories off the tower, landing on the ground where he sustained a broken leg and internal injuries.
He was rushed to a nearby hospital where doctors decided to send him to a bigger one for better treatment. However, he died before the helicopter transporting him could reach its destination. He was just one month shy of his 22nd birthday.
Tributes to Agung’s bravery were led by Yohannes Sirait, spokesman for Air Navigation Indonesia, who said Agung’s sacrifice had potentially saved the lives of hundreds of people.
“He gave clearance for this flight, and if he left his post before the plane was airborne, hundreds of people inside the plane might be in danger,” he said.
“Unfortunately we lost him this morning before the helicopter reached Palu.”
Hundreds of tributes have since flooded in, with Agung given a hero’s farewell earlier Saturday as soldiers carried his body to be transported to the burial.
In acknowledgement of his bravery and sacrifice, AirNav Indonesia officials raised his rank by two levels saying that he “demonstrated tremendous dedication” in providing flight safety.
At least 384 people have so far been confirmed dead and over 500 people injured as a result of Friday’s earthquake and tsunami.
Palu airport has been damaged to the extent that it has lost at least 500 meters of its 2,500 meter-long runway, but is still operational for rescue aircraft.
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