palu earthquake pilot shot

When he was airborne 1,500 feet (457m) above, Capt Ricoseta Mafella saw giant waves starting to form at the coastline. Screenshot from a video shot by Capt Mafella.

“The testimony of the Pilot of the last plane out of Palu before the earthquake.”

This was the title of the remarkable story that was flying around social media soon after the Palu, Sulawesi, earthquake and tsunami sent shock waves around the world.

In the testimony, the pilot, Captain Ricoseta Mafella from Batik Air, shared how he was inexplicably urged by the Holy Spirit to take off from Palu three minutes ahead of schedule.

Did God really speak to him?

In so doing, Capt Mafella saved the 147 passengers and crew on his flight from certain danger. 

“According to him, if he had taken off three minutes later, he would not have been able to save the 147 passengers and crew, because the asphalt on the landing strip was moving up and down like a curtain blowing in the wind,” said the testimony which quickly went viral among Christian communities.

So was this a true story? Or was it – like so much on social media – fake news?

Salt&Light tracked down Capt Mafella to find out the truth: Did God really speak to him?

“Be quick”

Indeed, He did, said Capt Mafella.

“God calculated the process accurately,” the veteran Batik Air pilot told Salt&Light. “The Holy Spirit was in control of my decision and of what I did.”

He heard the Holy Spirit tell him to “be quick, get out or depart quickly”.

Capt Mafella, 44, is the pilot of the final plane that departed from Palu before the 7.5 magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on September 29, at 18:02 local time.

According to the country’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency, 2,256 people have died and another 1,309 are still missing.

After the twin disaster, Capt Mafella posted a tribute on his Instagram account, praising the air traffic controller Anthonius Gunawan Agung for sacrificing his life for the 147 passengers and crew on board the plane.  

Agung was overseeing the plane’s takeoff, which left the runway less than a minute before the earthquake hit.

He was in the control tower when it started shaking.

Unlike others in the building, Agung did not flee. He waited for the Batik Air flight to take off safely before jumping off the tower, which was collapsing by then.

Agung, 21, broke his arm, leg and ribs due to the plunge and died from his injuries.

Ricoseta Mafella

Capt Mafella has been a pilot since 1993. Photo courtesy of Ricoseta Mafella.

His last words were: “Batik 6231 runway 33 clear for take off”, wrote Capt Mafella on his Instagram post. There was no indication of panic in Agung’s voice, he said.

The pilot told Salt&Light that, after he landed in Palu earlier in the afternoon and parked his aircraft, he heard the Holy Spirit tell him to “be quick, get out or depart quickly”.

He got the crew to speed up the departure process for his flight leaving the island.

The passengers and crew had no clue of their close shave until much later.

Not his first near-death experience

The Palu disaster is just one of a few near-death experiences that the pilot of 25 years has been through, he said.

The incident has “strengthened me so much and proven that God is alive and available and real”.

But this was the first time he felt immediate peace over the situation as he knew God was in control.

“I’ve been inside a church when it got bombed, I almost died because of dengue fever, and I was almost in a car crash before,” he said. “The difference is death felt so imminent when they happened, and I was filled with fear.

“But with Palu, I faced it without fear.”

Capt Mafella, a Christian from Jakarta, said that the incident has “strengthened me so much and proven that God is alive and available and real”.

He added that Christians can pray for God’s blessing and healing of the people in Palu, and that through His sustenance, they will come to Christ.

Ricoseta Mafella and co-pilot

Capt Mafella and his co-pilot describing the flight out of Palu. Photo courtesy of Ricoseta Mafella.

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Salt&Light

Salt&Light is a platform to facilitate marketplace unity in Singapore and the region.