A heroic Indonesian air traffic controller died helping a jet escape the country's catastrophic earthquake

  • An air traffic controller refused to leave his station during a catastrophic earthquake, a decision which ultimately cost him his life.
  • Anthonius Gunawan Agung stayed behind to help guide a passenger jet off the runway. By the time his job was done, it was too late to escape.
  • Agungjumped from the tower when it started to collapse, but died from his injuries in hospital.
  • The pilot paid tribute to Agung as his "guardian angel", and said that he had less than 30 seconds to spare escaping the island.
  • The official death toll from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami is more than 800, but authorities fear that thousands may be dead.

A 21-year-old Indonesian air traffic controller sacrificed himself to help a passenger jet escape the country's catastrophic earthquake which has killed hundreds of people.

Anthonius Gunawan Agung was on duty in Mutiara SIS Al-Jufrie Airport near the city of Palu, and refused to leave the air traffic control tower until the plane was airborne even after the 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit, Indonesia's air traffic control company wrote on Twitter.

Photos of the damage: 

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Earthquake, tsunami strike Indonesian island of Sulawesi
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Earthquake, tsunami strike Indonesian island of Sulawesi
A shopping center heavily damaged following an earthquake in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia September 28, 2018 in this handout photo made available by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/BNBP/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
A resident is seen beside the collapsed brick wall of her house at Tobadak village in Central Mamuju, western Sulawesi province, on September 28, 2018, after a strong earthquake hit the area. - Indonesia was rocked by a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake on September 28, just hours after at least one person was killed by a collapsing building in the same part of the country. (Photo by NURPADILA / AFP) (Photo credit should read NURPADILA/AFP/Getty Images)
A man takes a picture of a quake-tsunami aftermath in Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by OLA GONDRONK / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLA GONDRONK/AFP/Getty Images)
People walk past dead bodies (blue cover) a day after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by OLA GONDRONK / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLA GONDRONK/AFP/Getty Images)
People look at the aftermath of the tsunami in Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by OLA GONDRONK / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLA GONDRONK/AFP/Getty Images)
People walk past dead bodies (blue cover) a day after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by OLA GONDRONK / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLA GONDRONK/AFP/Getty Images)
People look at the aftermath of the tsunami in Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by OLA GONDRONK / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLA GONDRONK/AFP/Getty Images)
People look at the aftermath of the tsunami in Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by OLA GONDRONK / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLA GONDRONK/AFP/Getty Images)
A paramedic gives treatment to an earthquake survivor outside a hospital in Donggala, Indonesia Sulawesi Island, September 28, 2018. Antara Foto/HO/BNPB-Sutopo Purwo N via REUTERS - ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
People walk near a road damaged by yesterday's large earthquake at Kayangan Port in Lombok, Indonesia August 20, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Ahmad Subaidi/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A shopping center heavily damaged following an earthquake in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia September 28, 2018 in this handout photo made available by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/BNBP/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
A damaged house is seen after an earthquake hit in Palu, Indonesia Sulawesi Island, September 29, 2018. Antara Foto/BNPN via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
Residents trying to salvage belongings from their homes which collapsed after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Nearly 400 people were killed when a powerful quake sent a tsunami barrelling into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, officials said on September 29, as hospitals struggled to cope with hundreds of injured and rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
An injured woman rests at a makeshift hospital after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Nearly 400 people were killed when a powerful quake sent a tsunami barrelling into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, officials said on September 29, as hospitals struggled to cope with hundreds of injured and rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents gather to look at a collapsed building after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Nearly 400 people were killed when a powerful quake sent a tsunami barrelling into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, officials said on September 29, as hospitals struggled to cope with hundreds of injured and rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents make their way along a street full of debris after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / People look at the bodies of victims after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Nearly 400 people were killed when a powerful quake sent a tsunami barrelling into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, officials said on September 29, as hospitals struggled to cope with hundreds of injured and rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Medical team members help patients outside a hospital after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents carry a victim after after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman cries as people look at the damages after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents salvage belongings after an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Nearly 400 people were killed when a powerful quake sent a tsunami barrelling into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, officials said on September 29, as hospitals struggled to cope with hundreds of injured and rescuers scrambled to reach the stricken region. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Medical team members help patients outside a hospital after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. - Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. (Photo by MUHAMMAD RIFKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUHAMMAD RIFKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Spokesman Yohanes Harry Sirai told Sky News: "When the quake happened, he was giving clearance to Batik Air to take off and waited for the plane to be safely airborne before finally leaving the ATC cabin tower."

Agung jumped from the four-story tower as it began to collapse. He suffered broken bones and internal injuries on landing which ultimately killed him.

The air traffic control company posted photos of Agung's body being saluted by lines of what appear to be soldiers and with the hashtag #RIPAgung.

Icoze Ezoci, the pilot of the rescued plane, posted tributes to Agung on Instagram. 

"Thank you for keeping me and guarding me till I’m safely airborne," he wrote. "Rest peacefully my wing man. God be with you."

Ezoci posted footage from the cockpit, which he said showed the tsunami waves that followed the earthquake.

He said that if he had tried to take off 30 seconds later, he and his passengers would not have been able to get airborne.

The official death toll from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami is more than 800, but authorities fear that thousands may be dead. Indonesian authorities are scrambling to get food, aid, and equipment to quake-hit Sulawesi island, where hundreds of people are thought to be trapped. 

The airport sustained heavy damage, but has reopened for limited commercial flights, the Reuters news agency reported.

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