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Hero air traffic controller gave his life to save hundreds of passengers

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 11/04/18

Anthonius Gunawan Agung stayed at his post until the last plane took off.

Air traffic controller Anthonius Gunawan Agung was working a standard shift at an airport in Palu, Indonesia, when an earthquake and tsunami hit the island. He held his post under catastrophic conditions, and even as alarms sounded to evacuate immediately, he chose to remain at his post directing planes filled with passengers until the last one had taken off the runway. Watch this video to learn his story and honor his ultimate sacrifice.

Walls shook and buildings crumbled as the 7.5 magnitude earthquake shook the island of Sulawesi. Other airport employees rushed to evacuate the control tower, but Anthonius knew that one plane, with 147 passengers, still needed to be cleared for take-off. He waited to make sure the plane was safely airborne before trying to save his own life; indeed, his last words were “Batik 6321 clear for take off.” His heroism saved all the lives aboard the plane.

The pilot of the plane, Ricosetta Mafella of Batik Airways, had no idea what was happening on the ground until he was airborne and saw the monstrous wall of water crashing down on the island he had just left. He tried calling the control tower but got no answer, and it was not until later on that he found out about Agung’s sacrifice.

Mafella explained, as told here, “I’m in a WhatsApp group with other air traffic controllers and one of them told me that they had asked Agung to get away from the tower. But he said ‘Wait, wait, Batik [Air] is still here.’” Mafella described Agung as his “guardian angel.”

Anthonius’ employer, Air Navigation Indonesia, posthumously honored him with high promotions. But it is the passengers of Batic 6321 who will always be grateful for his courage in laying down his life for theirs. As Mafella wrote in a social media post remembering Anthonius, “Rest in peace, my wing man. God be with you.”

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