Air traffic controller who helped plane take off safely is among at least 405 dead in Indonesian earthquake and tsunami
A man looks over lines of containers as people queue up Friday at a gas station in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.(Dita Alangkara / AP)
A survivor cries as he offers Friday prayers at a makeshift camp outside the damaged Agung Darussalam mosque in Palu.(Mohd Rasfan / AFP/Getty Images)
Survivors offer Friday prayers at a makeshift camp outside a damaged mosque in Palu.(Mohd Rasfan / AFP/Getty Images)
Indonesian rescuers try to free 15-year-old earthquake survivor Nurul Istikhomah from the flooded ruins of a collapsed house in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. Istikhamah has been trapped in the water for two days.(Aimacs Wilander / EPA-EFE/REX)
This aerial picture shows the remains of a 10-story hotel in Palu, Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi after it collapsed following a strong earthquake in the area.(Azwar / AFP / Getty Images)
A woman cries as people assess the damage after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island.(Muhammad Rifki / AFP/Getty Images)
Family members carry the body of a relative to a police hospital in Palu, Indonesia following a strong earthquake in the area.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
Medical team members help patients outside a hospital after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on Sept. 29, 2018.(Muhammad Rifki / AFP/Getty Images)
A doctor examines an injured child outside at an army hospital following earthquakes and a tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.(Tatan Syuflana / AP)
Indonesian men check the body of earthquake and tsunami victims as they look for their relatives at a police hospital in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.(Mast Irham / EPA-EFE/REX )
Residents look for their belongings amid the debris of destroyed houses in Palu, Indonesia.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
People walk along an Indonesian beach that was hit by a tsunami in Palu in Central Sulawesi after a strong earthquake and tsunami struck the area.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
A man collects valuable materials from a beach that was hit by a tsunami in Palu in Central Sulawesi after a strong earthquake and tsunami struck the area.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue personnel evacuate earthquake survivor Ida, a food vendor, from the rubble of a collapsed restaurant in Palu, Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
People attempt to identify the bodies of their relatives at a police hospital in Palu, Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi on Sept. 30, 2018, following a strong earthquake in the area.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
The hand of an earthquake victim is seen inside a body bag at a police hospital in Palu, Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
People survey the damage following a massive earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia on Sunday.(Rifki / AP)
People survey damage outside a shopping mall following earthquakes and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.(Tatan Syuflana / AP)
People survey the damage in Palu, Central Sulawesi.(Rifki / AP)
Rescuers remove bodies Sunday in Palu, Central Sulawesi.(Basarnas Handout / EPA-EFE/REX )
People try to identify the bodies of relatives at the compound of a police hospital in Palu on Sunday.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
Two Indonesians make off with a big-screen TV looted from a ruined shopping mall Sunday in Palu, Central Sulawesi.(Mast Irham / EPA-EFE/REX )
Men make off with goods looted from a damaged shopping mall in Palu, Central Sulawesi.(Mast Irham / EPA-EFE/REX )
People queue up for gasoline Sunday in Palu, Central Sulawesi.(Tatan Syuflana / AP)
People survey damage outside a shopping mall Sunday in Palu, Central Sulawesi.(Tatan Syuflana / AP)
An army doctor examines an injured child outside at army hospital following earthquakes and a tsunami in Palu, Indonesia.(Tatan Syuflana / AP)
Indonesian survivors check the body of earthquake and tsunami victims as they look for their relatives at a police hospital in Palu, Indonesia.(Olagondronk/EPA-EFE/REX)
A photo made available by the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB) shows the coastal area of Palu city, Indonesia, on Saturday after an earthquake and tsunami hit the region.(BNPB/Handout/EPA-EFE/REX)
Cars are stacked and destroyed following a tsunami in Palu, Indonesia.(Wilander/EPA-EFE/REX )
An Indonesian man hugs his daughter who survived the earthquakes and tsunami as they reunite at an open air camp in Palu, Indonesia.(Mast Irham/EPA-EFE/REX)
A tsunami destroyed the Jembatan Empat bridge in Palu, Indonesia.(Wilander/EPA-EFE/REX )
Indonesian earthquake and tsunami survivors receive medical treatment outside a military hospital in Palu, Indonesia.(Mast Irham/EPA-EFE/REX)
Indonesian men check the bodies of earthquake and tsunami victims as they look for their relatives at a police hospital in Palu, Indonesia.(Mast Irham/EPA-EFE/REX)
A man looks for his belongings amid the debris of his destroyed house in Palu, Indonesia.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
People walk along a beach that was hit by a tsunami in Palu, Indonesia.(Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images)
Moments after 21-year-old air traffic controller Anthonius Gunawan Agung cleared a Batik Air flight for takeoff from Palu on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck.
Agung remained on the fourth floor of the control tower until the plane took off safely Friday evening. As the roof above him collapsed, Agung jumped from the damaged tower, suffering a broken leg and internal injuries.
With the airport largely disabled, hours passed before a helicopter could arrive to airlift him to a major hospital. Agung died early Saturday, officials said, as the death toll from the quake and an ensuing tsunami rose to 405, with many more still unaccounted for.
“Agung dedicated himself to his job until the end of his life and did not leave the control tower until the plane took off, even though the earthquake had struck,” Didiet K.S. Radityo, corporate secretary of the Indonesian Flight Navigation Service Institution, or AirNav, told the Jakarta Post on Saturday.
“He passed away 20 minutes before the helicopter arrived,” Didiet said of Agung, who worked at Mutiara Sis Al Jufri Airport in Palu, the regional capital of central Sulawesi.
Indonesian officials said the quake triggered a sundown tsunami measuring between five and 10 feet high that washed over Palu and Donggala, two coastal cities in Sulawesi in the east of the Indonesian archipelago, and destroyed thousands of buildings.
The death toll did not include figures from Donggala regency, a region with some 300,000 people outside Palu that remained cut off from communications, officials said.
Sutopo Nugroho, the disaster mitigation agency spokesman, told reporters in the capital, Jakarta, that the deaths had been tallied from four hospitals in Palu, a city of about 380,000. Sutopo said there were likely to be “many [more] victims,” possibly including some of the hundreds of people who were attending a beach festival when the tsunami struck.
Images from the stricken area — some relayed by the disaster mitigation agency and others posted on social media — showed a giant wave slamming into the coast along Palu after the quake occurred Friday around 6 p.m.
The video showed terrified onlookers observing the approaching water from the upper reaches of a coastal building, then turning to flee in terror as the water rolled up the shoreline and surged to an apparent 10 feet high, nearly swamping the vantage point.
Waves in some places were described as reaching almost 20 feet high.
Ensuing video showed a damaged mosque — a familiar local landmark — as well as campaign posters for national elections scheduled for April. Other images posted overnight showed lines of dead bodies, debris, damaged buildings and sodden streets.
Aulia Ariani, the head of communications at the Indonesian Red Cross, said colleagues on the ground described scenes of chaos, including “lots of collapse[d] buildings, [damaged] homes and streets, dead bodies.”
Comprehensive numbers of dead and injured were proving difficult to establish as relief workers raced to access the stricken region despite mangled communications and transport infrastructure and damaged power stations, she said.
“I’m afraid there are still people under the collapsed buildings,” she said.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo called on citizens to pray for the affected region and said he had asked ministers and agencies to head to the region and assist with relief work.
The Indonesian Red Cross is deploying ambulances and water trucks to the region as well as distributing tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats and other supplies. But getting supplies to the region will prove challenging with the road from Poso, a major town in central Sulawesi that could serve as a supply link to Palu, damaged or blocked.
Palu is a three-hour flight across the Java Sea and Makassar Strait from Jakarta and is closer to the southern Philippines and eastern Malaysia than to Java, Indonesia’s most populous island.
By late afternoon Saturday, the Palu airport, which had temporarily accommodated only propeller planes because of damage sustained in the disaster, was reopened to relief flights.
The damage came after a series of earthquakes in August that killed at least 460 people on Lombok, a holiday island east of Bali, the main destination for tourists to Indonesia.
Indonesia, a 3,000-mile-long archipelago comprising 17,000 islands, is one of the most quake-prone regions in the world, lying in a zone known as the Ring of Fire with more than 100 active volcanoes.
The country has been hit with several deadly earthquakes since 2004, when a magnitude 9.1 earthquake off the coast of western Indonesia triggered a tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people in countries across the Indian Ocean region, most of them Indonesians.
Special correspondent Roughneen reported from Jakarta, Indonesia, and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.
Shashank Bengali is South Asia correspondent for The Times.
7:10 p.m.: This article was updated with the new death toll, at least 405.
9:05 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting and new details.
1:05 a.m. Sept. 29: This article was updated with news of 384 dead.
This article was first published at 10:20 p.m. Sept. 28.
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