The 7.7 magnitude earthquake that rocked Palu in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, destroyed Mutiara Sis Al Jufri (MSAJ) Airport’s four-story air traffic control tower, unearthed more than 1,500 feet of its 8,200-foot-long runway, and damaged its navigation systems. Meanwhile, damage to the passenger terminal resulted in the airport’s indefinite closure to commercial flights.
Of the three air traffic controllers on duty at the time of the earthquake, two left after the first few series of jolts while the other remained to ensure the last flight, a Batik Air Boeing 737-800, could take off safely. That controller perished after jumping from the collapsing ATC tower.
According to AirNav official Yohanes Harry Sirali, the controller had refused to leave his post until he cleared Batik Air Flight GA 6231 bound for Ujung Pandang and Jakarta. The flight’s captain had asked for a departure three minutes ahead of schedule.
Speaking in Jakarta, Captain Mafella said had he taken off three minutes later he would not have managed to save the 140 passengers because the asphalt on the runway was moving up and down like a curtain blowing in the wind.
The government will look into rebuilding the airport once funds become available. Plans call for acquisition and installation of a new navigation system and construction of a new air traffic control tower and runway. First, however, geologists will need to conduct a study to determine the safety of locating the airport at the same site.
MSAJ received service from Garuda Indonesia, Batik Air, Lion Air, Wings Air, and Xpress Air, which together operated a total of 24 flights daily. Authorities plan to divert all Palu flights to Kasigungu Airport in the Poso province, also in Central Sulawesi. They have not established a start date, however.