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Hero of the tsunami control tower: How air traffic controller died while staying to guide packed jet off cracking tarmac as quake demolished terminal - as Indonesia death toll is set to rise from 384

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Sunday, 30 September, 2018, 23:40
Hero of the tsunami control tower: How air traffic controller died while staying to guide packed jet off cracking tarmac as quake demolished terminal - as Indonesia death toll is set to rise from 384

A young air traffic controller who remained behind during an earthquake to make sure a plane carrying hundreds of passengers took off safely has been hailed a hero.

Anthonius Gunawan Agung, 21, was working at Mutiara SIS Al-Jufrie Airport in Palu on the central Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Friday night, when a 6.1 magnitude tremor hit, followed by a 7.5-magnitude quake.

His actions unquestionably saved the lives of dozens, but at least 384 people have been killed in a resulting tsunami and another 500 injured after waves up to 20ft tall swept over the Indonesia island - as fears mount the death toll could rise into the thousands.

The tremors left deep fissures in the runway just as Batik Air flight 6321 was preparing to take off with hundreds of people on-board.

His colleagues ran for their lives when the control tower began to sway as the ground underneath it split.

Agung alone remained behind in the crumbling tower until he was certain he had done enough guide the pilots of the plane safely into the air.

His bravery could potentially have saved the lives of all the passengers and crew on board the plane, as the city was later devastated later by a tsunami caused by the earthquake.

The building began to shake soon after the plane departed and, fearing he would be trapped beneath the debris if the tower collapsed around him, Agung jumped from a fourth floor window.

He was rushed to hospital having suffered internal injuries and a broken leg.

A helicopter was called to take him to a different hospital for specialist care, and he was due to be picked up again from the airport on Saturday morning.

However, he died before the helicopter arrived.

AirNav Indonesia spokesman Yohannes Sirait said Agung's decision cost him his life, but he may have saved hundreds of others.

He was given a hero's send-off amid hundreds of tributes on Saturday as soldiers carried his body to be transported to the burial. He was just one month away from his 22nd birthday.

AirNav bosses also increased his rank by two levels in recognition of the sacrifice he made.

The fallout from the earthquake caused a gigantic tsunami on Friday evening which killed almost 400 people and injured 540 more in Palu city alone. Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the death toll could rise to thousands.

Many locals are too afraid to go back indoors and have decided to sleep in the darkness outside following the residual tremors which have been occurring throughout the day.

Other cities known to be closer to to the quake's epicentre are not yet accessible as power and communications have cut out.