Air Traffic Controller Dies While Helping Plane Escape Earthquake: 'He Is My Hero,' Says Pilot
Anthonius Gunawan Agung, an employee of the Palu Airport in Indonesia is being lauded as a national hero
An air traffic controller is being lauded as a national hero after sacrificing his life to save a plane full of people taking off during an earthquake.
On Friday, Anthonius Gunawan Agung, 21, was working in the control tower at the Palu Airport in Indonesia while pilot Ricosetta Mafella’s Batik Airways plane was sitting on the runway with 147 passengers and crew members on board,” BBC News reports.
“I was rushing to leave,” Marfella, 44, told the outlet. “There was a voice in my head that told me, just get out of here immediately. I told my crew and the ground crew to speed up.”
The plane took off at 18:02, less than a minute before a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the area. According to the BBC, the air traffic control tower began to shake and everyone fled the tower except Agung, who waited until the passenger jet was airborne before jumping out of the fourth floor of the collapsing building. He later died from injuries incurred during the fall.
Other air traffic controllers working at the airport at the time tried to get Agung to flee with them, but he refused, saying, “Wait, wait, Batik is still here,” according to the pilot, who is in a WhatsApp group with the men.
“Batik 6231 clear for take off,” were Agung’s last words, Mafella wrote in an Instagram post paying tribute to him.
Once airborne, the pilot says he saw huge waves near the coastline, and shared a video of them on Instagram. They turned out to be a tsunami.
He attempted to alert the air traffic controller, but no one answered his call.
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“When I found out what happened, I was speechless,” Mafella said.
On Saturday, Air Navigation Indonesia tweeted a series of photos showing soldiers transporting Agung’s body for burial. According to the BBC, he has been posthumously promoted by two ranks “as a form of appreciation for his outstanding dedication.”
“I feel so deeply sorry,” Mr Mafella said. “I could have died as well. He is my hero and our national hero.”
Batik Airways and the Palu Airport did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.