Sulawesi quake: Air traffic controller who stayed behind to guide plane to safety killed

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Mr Anthonius Gunawan Agung, 21, was a flight navigation service personnel who continued to carry out his duty when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck the city of Palu in Central Sulawesi on Sept 28, 2018. He was killed in the aftermath of the quake. PHOTO: AIRNAV INDONESIA

JAKARTA - A 21-year-old air traffic controller in Palu, who continued to carry out his duty when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck the city in Central Sulawesi on Friday evening (Sept 28), has been killed in the aftermath of the quake.

Mr Anthonius Gunawan Agung was a flight navigation service personnel with AirNav Indonesia's Palu branch and he was the air traffic controller (ATC) on duty at the Mutiara SIS Al-Jufrie airport during the time of the incident.

"When the earthquake occurred, he had just cleared a Batik Air flight for take-off and waited for the aircraft to be safely airborne before finally leaving the ATC cabin tower," AirNav Indonesia spokesman Yohanes Harry Sirait told reporters on Saturday.

After the flight was cleared, Mr Anthonius found himself trapped and was forced to jump from the four storey-tall tower as the tremors grew stronger.

As a result, he suffered a broken leg and other internal injuries, and died while he was waiting to be evacuated by helicopter.

While grieving the death of a colleague, Mr Yohanes also expressed his condolences for other victims of the earthquake, which was centred in nearby Donggala, a regency in Central Sulawesi.

Mr Yohanes said Mr Anthonius' body will be flown to Makassar, and then to his hometome in Abepura, Papua, where his family awaits.

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The young Indonesian man was one of more than 300 people who were killed in the quake, which also resulted in a 3m-high tsunami which together destroyed thousands of buildings in Central Sulawesi province.

The central government is scrambling to send aid to the affected area, where almost 400 people are also injured, even as scores of dead bodies are still being recovered less than 24 hours after the quake first struck on Friday evening.

National emergency response teams have been having difficulty getting to the disaster areas, mainly due to damage to the airport runway.

Mr Yohanes said about 250m of the 2,250m-long runway at the Palu airport was damaged by the quake.

However, AirNav has since installed markers on the 2,000m undamaged stretch of tarmac for aircraft to land with emergency supplies and rescue personnel.

AirNav has dispatched a team of 11 comprising air traffic controlling personnel as well as communication engineers from the Makassar branch office to provide flight navigation services in Palu, Mr Yohanes added.

Operations at Mutiara SIS Al-Jufrie airport have resumed but it will be restricted to flights for emergency, search and rescue, as well as humanitarian aid flights.

Commercial flights may only resume on Oct 4, according to the latest flight notification by AirNav on Saturday afternoon.

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