Pilot hails take-off 'guardian angel' who died in Indonesia earthquake

PALU, Indonesia, Oct 2 (Reuters) - An Indonesian pilot hailed an air traffic controller who died in Friday's earthquake as a "guardian angel" for ensuring a passenger plane took off safely before he jumped in vain for safety.

Anthonius Gunawan Agung, 21, was among at least 1,230 people who died in the devastating 7.5-magnitude quake and tsunami that hit Sulawesi island.

When disaster struck, Agung did not follow others leaving the crumbling four-story control tower at Palu airport.

Agung's last words, according to pilot Ricoseta Mafella, were: "Batik 6231, runway 33, clear for takeoff."

"He was saying it in a very calm manner, because the earthquake hadn't started yet," Mafella told Reuters.

Then the earthquake struck.

“I felt that the aircraft was moving slightly to the right and to the left,” Mafella said.

Agung waited for the plane, bound from Palu to Makassar, to become airborne before leaving the control tower, authorities said.

"He stayed... until the last of my departure, until the tower was shaking very bad," Mafella added. "Once he made sure that the aircraft had departed safely, he jumped from his tower to the lower level."

The air traffic controller broke his arm, leg and ribs in the fall and died from his injuries, authorities said.

Photos of the quake's destruction: 

22 PHOTOS
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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Air Navigation Indonesia said in a statement that it would posthumously raise Agung's rank by two levels as a sign of appreciation. The company tweeted out images showing Agung's body being carried to a helicopter during his funeral procession in Makassar.

Indonesians praised Agung online, with many saying his story had brought them to tears. Several artists created tributes in his honor that were widely circulated on social media.

"I think he did a very heroic action, he did his job professionally, and I think he should be honored," Mafella said. "I call him my guardian angel."

(Reporting and writing by Yishu Ng and Yimin Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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