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Indonesia earthquake control tower hero sacrifices himself so plane can safely take-off saving ‘hundreds of lives’

An air traffic controller has been hailed a hero after he sacrificed himself to potentially save hundreds of lives following a devastating earthquake in Indonesia.

Anthonius Gunawan Agung’s colleagues fled when Palu airport’s control tower began to sway and crumble as the 7.5-magnitude quake hit.

As the disaster left deep cracks in the runway, the pilots of a plane carrying hundreds of passengers were preparing to take off.

Agung, 21, refused to leave the tower despite the danger and he was the only worker left as he guided Batik Air flight 6321 to safety.

Mr Agung’s body was carried by the military following his death

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After the plane departed, the tower shook and Mr Agung jumped from the fourth floor, fearing the building was about to collapse amid Friday’s quake.

He suffered internal injuries and a broken leg, and was rushed to hospital by his colleagues.

A helicopter was ordered to take him to a different hospital for specialist care, and he was transported back to Mutiara SIS Al-Jufrie Airport on Saturday morning to be picked up.

However, he died before the helicopter arrived.

Mr Agung decided to leap out of the tower, fearing it would collapse

Deep cracks formed in the runway when the quake hit

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Air Nav Indonesia spokesman Yohannes Sirait said Mr Agung’s decision to stay behind cost him his life, but he may have saved hundreds of others.

Mr Agung, who would have turned 22 on October 24, was given a hero’s send-off following his death, as his bosses increased his rank by two levels as tributes were paid to him.

Soldiers carried his body as it was transported for burial.

Following the quake, a deadly tsunami with waves up to 18ft high slammed into homes and other buildings along the coast on Sulawesi island at a speed of almost 500mph.

Mr Agung was hailed a hero following his death

The air traffic controller may have saved hundreds of lives

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The death toll increased to 384 on Saturday, with more than 500 injured and dozens still unaccounted for.

Many bodies were found along the shoreline of the city of Palu after victims were swept away by giant waves as they played on the beach.

Strong aftershocks continued to rock the coastal city after deadly waves swept through the scenic tourist town.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency BNPB, told reporters: "Many bodies were found along the shoreline because of the tsunami."

Dozens of people are treated outside a hospital in Palu

People walk near the ruins of a shop at the beach

He added: "When the (tsunami) threat arose yesterday (Saturday), people were still doing their activities on the beach and did not immediately run and they became victims.

"The tsunami didn’t come by itself, it dragged cars, logs, houses, it hit everything on land."

He said the tsunami had struck with a speed of 497 mph, destroying buildings and infrastructure. Power and communications were knocked out, hampering the search and rescue effort.

Some people climbed 18ft trees to escape the tsunami and survived, Mr Nugroho said.

Mr Nugroho said the quake intensity was much higher in the fishing town of Donggala, which was closer to the epicentre, and they expect the damage there to be much worse, but have not been able to establish communications, Reuters reported.

Terrifying video posted online showed huge waves approaching and crashing into homes along Palu’s shoreline on Friday.

A woman cries as people look at the damage on Sulawesi island

Residents carry a victim near an overturned vehicle

On Saturday, bodies were lined up along the street, some in bags and some with their faces covered with clothes.

Mr Nugroho said thousands of houses, hospitals, shopping malls and hotels collapsed, a bridge washed away and the main highway to Palu cut due to a landslide.

Makeshift medical tents were set up outside a hospital in the chaotic aftermath, as medics treated dozens of injured people on the floor.

Shelters have been set up for those who have nowhere else to go after their homes were destroyed.

Indonesian officials have are facing criticism following yet another natural disaster for the Southeast Asian nation.

The country’s meteorological and geophysics agency BMKG issued a tsunami warning after the quake, but lifted it 34 minutes later.

The agency has been criticised for not informing a tsunami had hit Palu on Saturday, though officials said waves had come within the time the warning was issued.

More than 600,000 people live in Donggala and Palu.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly hit by powerful earthquakes.

In August, a series of major quakes killed over 500 people in the tourist island of Lombok and destroyed dozens of villages along its northern coast.

Palu was hit by tsunami in 1927 and 1968, according to BNPB.

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