This is an incredible story. Air traffic controller Anthonius Gunawan Agung was working at Palu airport in Indonesia on Saturday when several earthquakes occurred.
The tower evacuated but he stayed behind to ensure Batik Air flight ID 6231 got off the ground. It was a 5:55 p.m. scheduled departure. The captain pushed back 3 minutes early and was cleared for takeoff at 6:02 p.m.
Pilot Ricoseta Mafella says he had no idea that an earthquake struck, though he “felt something wrong on the runway” during the aircraft’s take off roll. It was right at 6:02 p.m. that the earthquakes began, ultimately measuring a magnitude greater than 7.4.
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Batik Air ID 6231 scheduled to depart at 17.55, door closed at 17.52 then pushed back. 18.02 after cleared for take off, tower building collapsed. We were just rolling on the runway. I felt something wrong on the runway during take off roll. 18.02 earthquake 7.4-7.7 magnitude on scale rocks Palu. Thank God there is a voice (Holy Spirit i believe) telling me to depart early. I’m rushing the boarding process. Late by 30 second i would not have flown. Thank You Jesus. I took this video just after airborne on 1500ft climbing. Strange wave-Tsunami.
AirNav Indonesia spokesperson says the air traffic controller waited in the tower for the aircraft to get into the air before leaving. The last thing the pilot heard from the tower was “Batik 6231 runway 33 clear for take off.”
“I saw circles getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “I thought it was very strange but didn’t realize that it was an earthquake and tsunami.
“At 4,000 to 5,000 feet, I did a left turn and contacted air traffic control, but received no response.”
The quakes became stronger and were followed by a tsunami.
People tried to call Anthonius Gunawan Agung out of the tower. He reportedly told them “No, the aircraft isn’t airborne yet.” He knew that if the aircraft needed assistance he’d be the only one who could lay eyes on the plane. The tower roof began to collapse.
Eventually the controller jumped “from the top of the crumbling four-story tower” trying to escape. He broke his leg and he suffered internal injuries. He was taken to a hospital but died before he was able to be transported to a more advanced facility.
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‘Batik 6231 runway 33 clear for take off’. This was his last transmission to me then we replied. Thank you for keeping me and guarding me till I’m safely airborne. Then he jumped out of tower broke his leg and arm. Wing of honor for Anthonius Gunawan Agung as my guardian angel at Palu. Rest peacefully my wing man. God be with you.
Anthonius Gunawan Agung, age 21, has been given a posthumous two rank promotion by Indonesia’s air navigation service provider.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for the work that air traffic controllers do. I suspect that the best sense most people have gotten for the job comes from the Billy Bob Thornton / John Cusack film Pushing Tin. When I flew United regularly I loved nothing more than listening in to “Channel 9” a.k.a. “From the Flight Deck” the ATC communications for the flight.
Unfortunately that’s been removed from United’s Airbus narrowbodies, but premium transcons as well as 767 and 777 aircraft are equipped though it’s up to the captain whether to make it available for each flight.
(HT: Jonathan W.)