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The heroic air traffic controller who gave his life for others

BOHATERSKI OPERATOR
Yu Kato/Unsplash | CC0
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During the September earthquake in Indonesia, he stayed at his post to get the planes off the ground.

Indonesia has been struck by a series of earthquakes this year. On September 28 at 12:02 p.m., a 7.5 magnitude earthquake shook North and Central Sulawesi and the island of Borneo. Buildings fell. Walls crumbled. People were buried in the ruins by the hundreds. Since the catastrophe, the list of deceased has grown to over 2,000, and more will surely be discovered. However, there would have been even more if it weren’t for a certain hero, who gave his life for others.

His name was Anthonius Gunawan Agung. He was 21 years old and had his entire life ahead of him. He had a good job, and a decent salary; he had every reason to expect a bright future. He worked as a flight controller in the city of Palu, which was also affected by the earthquake. That fatal day, on Friday, September 28, he was working at the control tower at the Palu-Mutiara airport.

After the quake, a tsunami began to rush into the city. Blue-brown waves, ten feet high, rushed into the city with great force. Buildings collapsed. The ones miraculously still standing after the earthquake now fell like houses of cards, washed out by the gigantic wave that kept on coming.

The Palu-Mutiara airport is located barely 6 kilometers from the narrow bay. Pilots, conscious of the coming danger, started the engines of those planes ready for takeoff. People inside prayed for time. But everyone, pilots and passengers, needed one more man in order to take off: the one in charge of the control tower that just had started to crumble.

On duty until the end

Anthonius, however, didn’t run away. He heard the noise of the crackling walls. He felt the floor giving way under his feet. Disregarding the warnings the emergency services had sent him, he did not get up from the monitor showing the traffic in the air and on the runway. There were still planes waiting for his help. The young man decided to help all those that were ready for takeoff to leave, despite knowing what staying there could mean for him.

Pilot Icoze Ezoci was sitting at the control of his plane, waiting for permission to take off, as the city collapsed in disaster around him. Anthonius was doing the best he could, as he was alone in the air traffic control tower now. He worked fast, knowing how many people were counting on him to get them to safety.

“Batik 6231! Runway 33 ready for takeoff,” Anthonius managed to shout at the control microphone.

“Got it,” the pilot answered; he’d been waiting for precisely that information. He moved immediately.

A dozen or so seconds later the last of the waiting planes took off from the ground. It was safe, and so were all passengers on board.

The end

Unfortunately, Anthonius wasn’t. After that last communication, he felt the tower leaning towards the ground, falling. Another jolt came. A few more seconds and the tower would crumble. Acting on instinct, Anthonius decided to do another heroic act that day. He would fight for a life again, this time his own. He jumped out of the window.

He fell from the fourth floor. He broke his legs and had multiple internal injuries. He was quickly taken to the hospital, but unfortunately, it was too late. He died shortly after arrival, as another victim of the catastrophic event.

21-year-old guardian angel

“He was my guardian angel. He stayed at his post till the very end,” Icoze Ezoci, the pilot of the last plane that left from the Palu-Mutiara airport that day, remembers with emotion. Thirty seconds later the plane would not have been able to take off.

The pilot said his goodbye to the heroic controller with these words:

“Thank you for watching over me until I was safely in the air. A wing of honor for Anthonius Gunawan Agung. Rest in peace, and God be with you.”

Yes, let the good God be with the young hero and his entire family. He showed us all what real bravery and love for others means. Now it’s our turn. Let’s pray for Anthonius.

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