RELATIVES of Air Asia Flight 8501 crash victims sought strength in prayer yesterday, one week after the disaster killed all 162 people on board, as rough weather again prevented searchers from reaching a large object on the ocean floor believed to be the plane’s fuselage.
Emotionally exhausted family members sang and cried at a chapel in Surabaya, the city from which Flight 8501 departed on 28 December. The Reverend Philip Mantofa, who heads the congregation at Mawar Sharon Church – where more than a quarter of the victims were members – urged those gathered to find comfort in faith.
“If God has called your child, allow me to say this: Your child is not to be pitied,” he said, locking eyes with a grieving father seated in the front row. “Your child is already in God’s arms. One day, your family will be reunited in heaven.”
It is not known what caused the Singapore-bound plane to crash into the Java Sea 42 minutes after take-off on what was supposed to be a two-hour flight. Just before losing contact, the pilot told air traffic control he was approaching threatening clouds, but was denied permission to climb to a higher altitude because of heavy air traffic.
Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, has been gripped by grief as bodies continue arriving in simple, numbered coffins after being pulled from the water. Three more bodies were recovered yesterday, raising the total to 34, as bad weather hampered recovery efforts.
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Around-the-clock coverage of the disaster has also reignited fear of flying for some in a country that has suffered a string of accidents in recent years, as new airlines pop up to meet booming demand in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago nation of 250 million people.
Late on Saturday, some passengers panicked when the auxiliary power failed inside another AirAsia plane leaving from Surabaya, this one headed to the Indonesian city of Bandung.
The lights and other electrical equipment shut down inside the cabin while the plane was still on the Tarmac, and the pilot returned to the gate. Of the 161 passengers on board, 60 refused to fly and were given full refunds, AirAsia officials said.
“There was no engine trouble, but some of the passengers were spooked,” said AirAsia chairman Kamarudin Meranun. “It is understandable, since the crash is still fresh in their minds.”
The crash of Flight 8501 has triggered an intensive international search-and-recovery operation involving 20 planes and helicopters along with 27 ships from Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States. All have been desperately searching for the all-important black boxes, pieces of the Airbus A320 and corpses.
This weekend, sonar equipment identified five large objects on the seabed in the search area, but no images have been captured confirming they are part of the plane.
Suspected plane parts were also seen scattered on beaches during an aerial survey.
After detecting the five large objects – the biggest measuring 59 feet long and 18 feet wide and believed to be the fuselage – officials said it was possible that many passengers and crew will be found inside the wreckage.
Divers tried to reach the site yesterday, but rolling seas stirred up silt and mud, leaving them with zero visibility, said Henry Bambang Soelistyo, chief of Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency.
“At this moment, it’s impossible to send any divers,” he said.
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