A Batik Air captain (pictured above, right) claims that he took off from Palu, Indonesia three minutes ahead of schedule due to promptings from the Holy Spirit. Whatever the source of his inspiration, his decision likely saved the lives of all 140 passengers and seven crewmemebrs aboard.
In most Christian traditions, the Holy Spirit is considered the third person in the trinity (Father / Son / Holy Spirit) and called the eternal counselor (John 14:16). Captain Icoze Mafella, a Christian, claims it was that counselor (“a voice in his heart”) who prompted him to leave early.
Upon arriving in Palu, Captain Mafella felt a strange urging to accelerate the ground stop and get back in the air. He was operating a multi-leg island hopper with final destination Jakarta. He told his crew to take an abbreviated break and did not leave the cockpit. After securing permission from Air Controller Anthonius Agung to take off three minutes early, he pushed back and began taxiing. Moments later, he was given clearance for takeoff and turned onto the takeoff runway.
As he rolled down the runway, the earthquake began. Captain Mafella told a church audience in Jakarta:
If I had taken off three minutes later, I would not have been able to save the 140 passengers, because the asphalt on the landing strip was moving up and down like a curtain blowing in the wind.
As he took off, he noticed the waters retreating below him, a sign of an imminent tsunami.
Upon arrival in Ujung Pandang, Mafella learned that Agung had ensured his plane was in the air before abandoning the control tower. Tragically, by then it was too late. As the roof began to collapse, Agung jumped out, breaking his arms, legs, and ribs. He died from internal injuries on the way to the hospital.
Why This Story?
This story fascinated me. We can take the captain at his word–or not. But one thing is certain: 21-year-old Anthonius Agung, the air traffic controller, is being hailed as national hero for his sacrifice in ensuring the aircraft made it into the air. In nearly every story of death and tragedy there emerge stories of redemption and sacrifice. This is one of them.
Do I believe Captain Mafella? Frankly, I don’t know. I do not dismiss his story. Faith is the “substance of things hopes for, the conviction of things not seen.” There is no official record that I could find even confirming that the flight left early. Perhaps it is a fabricated story meant to memorialize the life of the Air Traffic Controller. Perhaps it is a true story that should merit deeper thought. Stories like this force us to wrestle with the juxtaposition of 140 lives being saved in the context of so many more lives tragically lost. The death toll for the earthquake and tsunami, whose epicenter was only 40 miles from the airport, has surpassed 1,200.
Let’s observe a moment of silence this day for Anthonius Agung and the many others who lost their lives in the latest Indonesian natural disaster. Mafella called Agung his guardian angel. No matter your religious leanings, that seems like an accurate metaphor.
image: Icoze Mafella / Instagram