‘My guardian angel at Palu’: Pilot pays tribute to Indonesian air traffic controller hailed as quake hero
JAKARTA: The pilot of the last passenger plane to leave Palu when the earthquakes struck has paid tribute to the Indonesian air traffic controller who guided the plane safety off the ground, but later died when the control tower collapsed.
Twenty-one-year-old Anthonius Gunawan Agung was on duty in the air traffic control tower at Palu's Mutiara SIS Al-Jufrie airport when a series of earthquakes struck the city in Sulawesi island on Friday (Sep 29), claiming more than 800 lives so far.
He is being posthumously hailed as a hero for refusing to leave his post in the face of disaster.
After making sure that Batik Air flight 6231 had taken off safely, Agung jumped out of the crumbling four-storey control tower and suffered serious internal injuries. He was taken to a hospital but later died from his injuries.
According to the pilot of that flight, Agung's last words to him were: "Batik 6231 runway 33 clear for take off."
"Thank you for keeping me and guarding me till I'm safely airborne," wrote the pilot, known as @icoze_ricochet on Instagram.
"Wing of honor for Anthonius Gunawan Agung as my guardian angel at Palu. Rest peacefully my wingman. God be with you," added the pilot.
Officials said Agung refused to leave his post until he got an Batik Air plane off the ground, while his colleagues who were not handling aircraft left the control tower.
"When the quake happened, he was giving clearance to Batik Air to take off and waited for the plane to be safely airborne before finally leaving the ATC cabin tower," said AirNav Indonesia spokesman Yohanes Harry Sirait.
After Flight 6231 was safely in the air, the quakes became stronger, culminating in a 7.5 magnitude jolt and a tsunami.
The company will raise Agung's rank by two levels as a sign of appreciation for his extraordinary dedication, AirNav said in a statement.
Local station Metro TV was among those who hailed Agung's "heroic act".
Sulawesi is one of the earthquake-prone archipelago nation's five main islands and sits astride fault lines. Numerous aftershocks have rattled the region.