AirAsia tragedy: Families left to sift through the wreckage

Jakarta: During an agonising wait at Surabaya airport, they had been hoping for a miracle, but in the end they had to watch the worst possible news.

Family members of passengers onboard the missing Malaysian air carrier AirAsia flight QZ8501 react after watching news reports showing an unidentified body floating in the Java sea
Family members of passengers onboard the missing Malaysian air carrier AirAsia flight QZ8501 react after watching news reports showing an unidentified body floating in the Java sea

Relatives of the passengers screamed and wailed as local television networks showed pictures of what was clearly a human body floating in the water. Grown men put their hands to their faces. At least two people collapsed and were taken out of the room on stretchers.

Indonesian students pray for victims in Tangerang
Indonesian students pray for victims in Tangerang

The mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, went from one crying relative to another, and at one point walked out with a grieving man, while telling him: “We don’t have a choice. Today this happens to you, tomorrow it may happen to me. Nobody knows. So you have to be strong. Our lives belong to God.”

It’s been a trying and exhausting wait for the more than 100 relatives who have been gathering in that room, but no-one could have been prepared for this ending.

A family member of passengers onboard the flight QZ8501 receives medical assistance after watching news reports showing an unidentified body floating in the Java sea, inside the crisis-centre set up at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya
A family member of passengers onboard the flight QZ8501 receives medical assistance after watching news reports showing an unidentified body floating in the Java sea, inside the crisis-centre set up at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya

‘Families are priority’
“My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501,” Tony Fernandes, the founder of AirAsia, wrote in a Twitter message soon after the debris was discovered. “On behalf of AirAsia my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am.”

Before the devastating news and visuals poured in, people in Malang, East Java prayed for those aboard the flight
Before the devastating news and visuals poured in, people in Malang, East Java prayed for those aboard the flight

He added, “I am absolutely devastated. This is a very difficult moment for all of us at AirAsia as we await further developments of the search and rescue operations but our first priority now is the wellbeing of the family members of those on board QZ8501.”

The statement said family members would be assigned care providers and an emergency call centre set up for those seeking information.

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