‘Proud to have known you’: Heroic air traffic controller Anthonius Gunawan Agung’s colleagues remember him

Anthonius Gunawan Agung. Photo: Twitter / @AirNav_Official
Anthonius Gunawan Agung. Photo: Twitter / @AirNav_Official

“Safe flight Batik Air. Take Care.”

Those were the heartbreaking last words of Anthonius Gunawan Agung, who has been hailed as a hero not only in Indonesia but around the world for his sacrifice which saved hundreds of lives.

The 21-year-old air traffic controller was on duty at Palu’s Mutiara SIS Al-Jufrie Airport when a massive magnitude-7.5 earthquake struck the Central Sulawesi capital on Friday. While his colleagues ran for their lives as the ATC tower began crumbling, Anthonius stayed behind to ensure that Batik Air flight 6321, which was on the runway at the time, took off safely.

By the time the plane was safely airborne, the top floor of the four-story ATC tower — where Anthonius was — was collapsing. Anthonius jumped from the great height, suffering a broken leg and other internal injuries.

Sadly, he passed away while waiting to be evacuated by a helicopter.

Among those who feel the greatest sense of loss for this hero are his colleagues, who have given Coconuts insight into who he was as a person and why he made such a huge sacrifice.

“If I could see him again, I’d tell him stay as you are, Anthonius. Never change.”

Muhammad Alfhian, an AirNav Indonesia technician currently stationed in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, shared a room with Anthonius in his first year at the Aviation Technician and Safety Academy (ATKP) in Makassar, South Sulawesi.

“He was somebody who liked to help his friends and he was very patient,” Muhammad said.

“I remember we used to dine together often and chat about the good times and bad times.”

Muhammad said he feels immense pride in being able to call Anthonius his friend.

“There is one thing I’d like to tell him: Thank you for being an inspiration to many by showing dedication to your work, which saved the lives of many. I’m proud to have known you and I’m proud to have been your roommate.”

Rachmat Hidayat, now an aviation technician with Sriwijaya Air, became a cadet at ATKP Makassar alongside Anthonius in 2014. He remembers Anthonius as a soft-spoken young man who felt an immense sense of responsibility beneath his quiet exterior.

“He always had to finish his job and responsibilities first,” Rachmat said, adding, “The best thing about him was that, in our academy, he was the one who always followed the rules.”

Anthonius’ dedication to his work, Rachmat says, is why he’s not surprised that his friend sacrificed his life for others.

“If I could see him again, I’d tell him stay as you are, Anthonius. Never change,” he said.

Photo: Instagram / @nosraa
Photo: Instagram / @nosraa

Ersa Tri Indahyani was Anthonius’ senior at ATKP Makassar and graduated one year before him to become an air traffic controller at Makassar’s Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport.

“As I remember him, Anthonius was a quiet man, he didn’t really communicate with those he didn’t know well. He also spoke softly,” she said.

“So I didn’t expect [that he would sacrifice himself like that]. His sacrifice was extraordinary in that while everybody else thought about saving their lives, Anthonius finished his job and he did it well. I have so much respect for him. He went from Anthonius who was barely known to someone known all over the world for his good heart.”

The world sure needs more people with hearts as good as Anthonius. If there is a heaven, we’re sure he’s on his way there. To which we say, “Safe flight, and take care.”

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