Missing flight QZ8501: Distraught relatives struggle to remain calm

SURABAYA - Grieving relatives of passengers on board the missing Indonesia AirAsia jet struggled to stay calm as hopes of seeing their loved ones again faded with every passing hour.

A day and a half after news of the missing jet shook up families, some of whom had travelled to the airport to see off their kin, the atmosphere last night at the crisis centre set up for relatives at Surabaya's Juanda International Airport was pensive.

The doomed Indonesia AirAsia flight had departed from here just before dawn on Sunday, headed for Singapore with 155 passengers and a crew of seven.

For a brief moment yesterday, the eyes of the silent throng turned to the entrance of the facility at the airport's Terminal 2 building as an elderly woman broke down and wailed. She was embraced and comforted by a relative who later brought her back into the room.

Others among the 150-odd relatives gathered at the centre yesterday tried to remain stoic, not always successfully.

Some looked distraught. Others wiped away tears as they waited patiently for updates to be delivered in the room filled with chairs facing a microphone stand and a large map of Indonesia.

At about 3.10pm local time, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla visited the centre and took the microphone to address the relatives.

Half an hour later, he gave a brief press conference just 20m outside the centre, speaking in both Bahasa Indonesia and English, together with AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes.

Mr Kalla said that the Indonesian government was fully committed to finding the missing plane. "We will not lose hope," he said.

The government is doing all it can and has involved all relevant agencies in the search, even enlisting the help of commercial ships and fishermen, he said.

Later, Mr Fernandes spoke individually to the relatives at the crisis centre.

Just before 5pm, the airline chief went to the microphone at the front of the room and spoke briefly, before departing.

As the evening news played on television at 7pm, relatives fixed their eyes intently on the flickering screen in the room.

Outside, one family member, Mr Theresya Theodoros, who had been waiting for updates on an uncle and aunt, both aged 45, and the couple's two children aged 21 and 18, said he felt disheartened that search and rescue operations would resume only at 6am today.

"I did not expect that such a thing would happen to a flight headed towards Singapore," said the 28-year-old Surabaya resident. "I feel so sad."

Mr Theodoros, whose missing relatives wanted to holiday in Singapore, said he appreciated Mr Fernandes meeting relatives individually for a second consecutive day.

"We really appreciate it. It shows how good the AirAsia service is," he said.


This article was first published on Dec 30, 2014.
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