Indonesia Air Traffic Controller Called a Hero for Actions During Massive Earthquake

By John Smithies
John Smithies
John Smithies
A journalist for The EpochTimes based in London. These views are firmly my own.
October 1, 2018 Updated: September 28, 2019

An air traffic controller in Indonesia has been called a hero after he helped a passenger plane avoid the recent earthquake—despite losing his own life in the process.

Anthonius Gunawan Agung, 21, held off jumping from a control tower that was collapsing in Palu airport so he could ensure the plane took off.

Agung died before he could receive specialist treatment.

His actions were praised by Didiet KS Radityo, the corporate secretary for Air Navigation Indonesia.

“Agung dedicated himself to his job until the end of his life and did not leave the control tower until the plane took off,” Radityo told the Jakarta Post.

The 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck on Sept. 28, with an estimated death toll of 832 as of Sept. 30 that included the subsequent tsunami.

In Palu city dozens of people were reported to be trapped in the rubble of a hotel and mall, with the city reportedly hit by waves as high as 20 feet.

Authorities are planning to bury the dead in mass graves.

Agung was in the process of clearing a Batik Air plane for take off when the first tremors began on Sept. 28.

Others who were not handling aircraft evacuated the control tower, but Agung stayed behind to make sure the plane took off.

At that moment the largest tremor hit, making the roof of the control tower collapse. Agung was forced to jump four stories, breaking his arms, legs, and ribs.

He was transported to hospital but died before he could be transferred to a specialist care center.

Agung has been posthumously promoted “as a form of appreciation for his outstanding dedication towards the deceased,” Yohannes Sirait, spokesman for Air Navigation Indonesia, told news outlet ABC.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the toll from the earthquake could rise into the thousands.

A disaster official said the tsunami traveled across the open sea at speeds of 500 mph before striking the shore and casualties could have been caused along a 200 mile stretch of coast, north and south of Palu.

Indonesia is all too familiar with deadly earthquakes and tsunamis. In 2004, a quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean, killing 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Questions are sure to be asked why warning systems set up around the country after that disaster appear to have failed on Sept. 28.

The meteorological and geophysics agency BMKG issued a tsunami warning after the Sept. 28 quake but lifted it 34 minutes later, drawing widespread criticism it had withdrawn it too quickly. But officials said they estimated the waves had hit while the warning was in force.

Hundreds of people had gathered for a festival on Palu’s beach when the wall of water smashed onshore at dusk on Sept. 28, sweeping many people to their deaths.

The head of the National Disaster Management Agency, Willem Rampangilei, told reporters in Sulawesi late on Sept. 29 rescuers were struggling in their hunt for more victims.

Reuters contributed to this report.

John Smithies
John Smithies
A journalist for The EpochTimes based in London. These views are firmly my own.