A passenger aboard AirAsia Flight 8501 became the first victim of the crash to be returned to her family Thursday, one of many painful reunions to come, as search crews struggled against wind and heavy rain to find more than 150 people still missing.
Hayati Lutfiah Hamid’s identity was confirmed by fingerprints and other means, said Col. Budiyono of East Java’s Disaster Victim Identification Unit.
Her body, in a dark casket topped with flowers, was handed over to family members during a brief ceremony at a police hospital in Surabaya, the Indonesian city where the plane took off. A relative cried as she placed both hands against the polished wood.
The coffin was then taken to a village and lowered into a muddy grave, following Muslim obligations requiring bodies to be buried quickly. An imam said a simple prayer as about 150 people gathered in the drizzling rain, and red flowers were sprinkled over the mound of wet dirt topped by a small white tombstone.
The Airbus A320 crashed into the Java Sea on Sunday with 162 people on board. Nine bodies have been recovered so far, including two on Thursday. Remains are being sent initially to Pangkalan Bun, the closest town on Borneo island, before being transported to Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, where Flight 8501 had taken off.
In the thick of Indonesia’s rainy season, the weather has frequently prevented helicopters and divers from operating while strong sea currents have kept debris moving.
Singapore’s navy sent an unmanned underwater vehicle capable of surveying the seabed to try to pinpoint the wreckage and the all-important ”black boxes” – flight data and cockpit voice recorders. More than 50 ships, mostly from Indonesia, were scouring the area with high-tech detection equipment. Aircraft with metal detectors also were deployed.
We are ”focusing on finding the body of the plane,” Indonesia air force spokesman Rear Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto told reporters. ”There was something like a dark shadow once seen from a plane, but it cannot yet be proven as wreckage.”
Sonar images have identified what appeared to be large parts of the plane.
”It’s possible the bodies are in the fuselage,” said Vice Air Marshal Sunarbowo Sandi, search and rescue coordinator in Pangkalan Bun. ”So it’s a race now against time and weather.”
The longer the search takes, the more corpses will decompose and debris scatter.
Aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas in Australia said there’s a good chance the plane hit the water largely intact, and that many passengers remain inside it.
He added that bodies recovered so far would have come out with a breach in the fuselage. ”But most passengers still should have had their seat belts on, particularly as the plane was going into weather. The captain would have still had the seat belt sign on.”
It is unclear what brought the plane down about halfway into its two-hour flight from Surabaya to Singapore. The jet’s last communication indicated the pilots were worried about bad weather. They sought permission to climb above threatening clouds but were denied because of heavy air traffic. Four minutes later, the airliner disappeared from the radar without issuing a distress signal.
I want the world to know what amazing people I have in this company. Yesterday my daughter flew to bali. And she said the crew sang.
— Tony Fernandes (@tonyfernandes) December 31, 2014
She told me what amazing service our cabin crew gave and how everyone was so happy. Its shows the spirit and the strength of our people.
— Tony Fernandes (@tonyfernandes) December 31, 2014
The black boxes hold data that will help investigators determine the cause of the crash but have yet to be recovered. Items found so far include a life jacket, an emergency exit door, an inflatable slide, children’s shoes, a blue suitcase and backpacks filled with food.
Relatives have given blood for DNA tests and submitted photos of their loved ones, along with identifying information such as tattoos or birthmarks that could help make the process easier.
The long wait, with its starts and stops, has been frustrating for Sugiarti. Her 40-year-old sister, Susiyah, was a nanny traveling to Singapore for a vacation with her employers and their 2-year-old daughter.
”I hope that they can find her body soon. I feel sorry for my sister because it has already been five days,” she told reporters at a crisis center set up at a Surabaya police station. ”I am trying very hard to be patient.”
Nearly all the passengers were Indonesian, and many were Christians of Chinese descent. The country is predominantly Muslim, but sizeable pockets of people of other faiths are found throughout the sprawling archipelago.
None of the AirAsia flight victim was wearing the life jacket: Official
An Indonesian search and rescue official had said on Wednesday that none of the bodies recovered so far from the crashed AirAsia Flight QZ8501 jet had been wearing a life jacket.
“There is no victim that has been found wearing a life jacket,” said Tatang Zaenudin, deputy head of operations at the national search and rescue agency.
“We found a body at 8.20 a.m. and a life jacket at 10.32 a.m. so there was a time difference. This is the latest information we have,” he added.
The same official told media earlier that one of the recovered bodies from AirAsia Flight QZ8501 had been wearing a life jacket.
Bad weather hindered efforts to recover victims of AirAsia Flight 8501 on Wednesday and sent wreckage drifting far from the crash site, as grieving relatives prayed for strength to endure their losses.
”Help us, God, to move forward, even though we are surrounded by darkness,” the Rev. Philip Mantofa, whose church lost about 40 members in the disaster, told families gathered in a waiting room at the Surabaya airport.
The massive hunt for 162 people who vanished Sunday aboard the Airbus A320 traveling from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore, was severely limited due to heavy rain, wind and thick clouds. Seven bodies, including a flight attendant in her red AirAsia uniform, have been recovered, said Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo.
Sonar images also identified what appeared to be large parts of the plane, but strong currents were moving the debris.
In the wake of AirAsia FlightQZ8501 crash and tragedies of Malaysian Airlines jets (MH17 and MH370) tell us how safe is aviation:
Conditions prevented divers from entering the choppy Java Sea, and helicopters were largely grounded. But 18 ships scoured the narrowed search area, and four of the seven corpses were recovered Wednesday before the search was called off for the day. Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency predicted conditions would worsen, with more intense rains, through Friday.
”It seems all the wreckage found has drifted more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) from yesterday’s location,” said Vice Air Marshal Sunarbowo Sandi, search and rescue coordinator in Pangkalan Bun on Borneo island, the closest town to the site. ”We are expecting those bodies will end up on beaches.”
The airliner’s disappearance halfway through the two-hour flight triggered an international search involving dozens of planes, ships and helicopters from numerous countries. It is still unclear what brought the plane down.
Check out the conversation on Airasia flight QZ8501 on Twitter timeline:
Its last communication indicated the pilots were worried about bad weather.
They sought permission to climb above threatening clouds but were denied because of heavy air traffic. Four minutes later, the jet disappeared from the radar without issuing a distress signal.
The aircraft’s cockpit voice and flight data recorders, or black boxes, must be recovered before officials can start determining what caused the crash. Items recovered so far include a life jacket, an emergency exit window, children’s shoes, a blue suitcase and backpacks filled with food.
Malaysia-based AirAsia’s loss comes on top of the still-unsolved disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March with 239 people aboard, and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July over Ukraine, which killed all 298 passengers and crew.
Simple wooden coffins – numbered 001 and 002 – with purple flowers on top contained the first two bodies, which were sent from Pangkalan Bun to Surabaya for autopsies. The two victims were a woman wearing blue jeans and a boy. The other five bodies – three male and two female – will remain on a warship until the weather clears.
Check out the Airasia flight QZ8501 announcements on Twitter timeline:
Nearly all the passengers were Indonesian, and a large portion were Christians of Chinese descent. The country is predominantly Muslim, but sizeable pockets of people of other faiths are found throughout the sprawling archipelago. Around 10 percent of those in Surabaya, the nation’s second-largest city, are Christian.
On Wednesday, around 100 relatives gathered for the airport prayer service where Mantofa urged them to hold onto their faith, despite their pain. About 40 members of his Mawar Sharon Church died in the crash.
”Some things do not make sense to us, but God is bigger than all this,” he said. ”Our God is not evil.”
Before breaking up, those gathered stood together and sang with their hands reaching upward. ”I surrender all. I surrender all,” they repeated. ”I surrender all to God our savior. I surrender all.”
Many family members had planned to travel to Pangkalan Bun, 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the area where bodies were first spotted, to start identifying their loved ones. However, Surabaya airport general manager Trikora Hardjo later said the trip was canceled after authorities suggested their presence could slow down the operation.
Instead, some relatives gave blood for DNA tests in Surabaya, where the bodies will be transported, and submitted photos of their loved ones along with identifying information such as tattoos or birthmarks that could help make the process easier.
Nearly all the passengers from Indonesia were frequent visitors to Singapore,
particularly on holidays.
It was 13-year-old Adrian Fernando’s first trip to the city-state and was supposed to be a fun vacation with his aunt, uncle and cousin before school resumed.
”He is my only son,” said his emotional mother Linca Gonimasela, 39, who could not accompany him because she had to work. ”At first, he didn’t want to go, but later on he was persuaded to join them for the New Year holiday.”
A number of Indonesian cities have opted to cancel or tone down their planned New Year’s Eve celebrations. However, a giant street bash was still in the works for the capital, Jakarta.
In Surabaya, hundreds stood in a drizzle holding candles in a park.
”Let us pray for the grieving families of those on board the plane,” Mayor Tri Rismaharini told the crowd. ”Let us pray this will be the last tragedy for Surabaya.”
AirAsia News Guide: Slow recovery, prayer for kin
ROUGH SEA HAMPERS RECOVERY
Strong winds and 2-meter (6-foot) waves slowed down the recovery of bodies and debris from the Java Sea on Wednesday. A total of seven remains have been plucked from the sea since they were first spotted Tuesday. They include a female flight attendant in her red AirAsia uniform.
On Wednesday, strong currents prevented divers from deploying and pushed the bodies and debris toward beaches in Pangkalan Bun on Borneo island, 160 kilometers (100 miles) away from where they were first spotted.
Helicopters were largely grounded while ships continued to scour the area.
Sonar images also identified what appeared to be large parts of the plane, but Indonesia’s forecasters said that the conditions would worsen with more intense rains through Friday.
41 CHURCH MEMBERS ON THE FLIGHT
A Pentecostal church from Surabaya said 41 of its members were on Flight 8501.
Around 100 relatives prayed for their loved ones at a Surabaya airport hall Wednesday. The Rev. Philip Mantofa from Manwar Sharon Church urged the crowd to hold onto their faith despite their pain.
About 125 family members had planned to travel to Pangkalan Bun to start identifying the bodies. However, Surabaya airport general manager Trikora Hardjo later said the trip was canceled after authorities suggested it would slow down the operation.
Instead, relatives gave blood for DNA tests in Surabaya, where the bodies were being transported, and submitted photos of their kin along with other data, such as tattoos or birth marks that would make the process easier.
MOTHER MOURNS 13-YEAR-OLD SON
Nearly all the passengers from Indonesia were frequent visitors to Singapore, particularly on holidays.
Among them was 13-year-old Adrian Fernando, who was with his aunt, uncle and cousin on his trip to the wealthy city-state before going back to school.
”He is my only son,” said mother Linca Gonimasela. She could not join them because of work.
”At first, he didn’t want to go, but later on he was persuaded to join them for the New Year holiday,” she said.
AIRASIA CEO: SEEING VICTIMS IS ‘SOUL DESTROYING’
The CEO of Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia, Malaysian tycoon Tony Fernandes, tweeted Wednesday that the ”reality of seeing the (victims) and some of my aircraft parts are soul destroying.”
From Surabaya, Fernandes flew to Pangkalan Bun and praised Indonesian searchers for a ”very professional job” despite the inclement weather.
AirAsia crash probe focuses on timing of request to climb, weather
Investigators into the AirAsia flight which crashed into the sea off Indonesia are focusing on the timing of the crew’s request to climb to a higher altitude to avoid bad weather as a possible factor behind the tragedy, a source close to the probe said. As Indonesian ships and aircraft recovered debris and bodies from AirAsia Flight QZ8501, the investigation into what happened on Sunday, when the aircraft carrying 162 people disappeared from radars, has only just begun. Among the early lines of inquiry is whether the crew could have asked to ascend, or climbed on their own initiative in case of emergency, at an earlier stage, and what role storms in the area might have played.
“We know that the weather was very bad in this area, there was a storm,” said the official, who declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the press. “Why did he (the pilot) request to climb at that stage? Should he have climbed earlier? Other aircraft were flying at a higher altitude in that area. How did the two pilots react to the weather? We are asking those questions.” Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) will lead the investigation into the crash of the Airbus A320, together with representatives from the United States, France and Britain, according to the source. He said evidence such as radar data, weather reports, and the communication between the pilots and air traffic control has been gathered and is being studied. The “black box” flight recorders have yet to be located, however, and the source cautioned that it was too early to draw firm conclusions as to what went wrong.
It was not immediately clear whether Indonesia’s only pilots’ union represented the captain, Iriyanto, although it works mainly with employees of national carrier Garuda Indonesia. Calls to the union late on Tuesday went unanswered. Iriyanto, 53, spent more than 10 years as a pilot trainer before flying with airlines including Merpati Airlines, Adam Air and, for the last three years, AirAsia.
The former fighter pilot also flew with the Indonesian Air Force, according to friends and family. AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes said it was “too early to speculate” about the cause of the crash. “I have full confidence in my … crew,” he told reporters in Surabaya. “Our pilot was extremely experienced, (with) 20,000 hours (of flying time). “He came from the air force, one of their best graduates. He came from Surabaya, so he knows the area very well.” Iriyanto’s co-pilot on the crashed jet was Remi Plesel of France.
AIR FRANCE CLUES?
According to Indonesian authorities, at 6.12 a.m. on Sunday, 36 minutes after taking off from Surabaya’s Juanda Airport on a flight to Singapore, the pilot of the doomed aircraft asked for permission from Jakarta air traffic control to climb 6,000 feet to 38,000ft and deviate to the left to avoid bad weather. Two minutes later, Jakarta responded by asking QZ8501 to go left seven miles and climb to 34,000ft. There was no response from the cockpit. The aircraft was still detected by the ATC’s radar for another three minutes before disappearing at 6.18 a.m. According to flightradar24.com, a website that uses radar data to track aircraft live, other aircraft in the area were flying between 34,000 and 39,000 feet when QZ8501 disappeared. Investigators are looking at the crash of Air France flight AF447 in 2009 for possible clues to what happened on Sunday.
The investigation into that Airbus A330 showed the co-pilot lost speed readings due to icing, and his panic reaction put the plane into a stall which the rest of the crew failed to recognise, sending the aircraft plunging into Atlantic. “No two accidents are the same. But there are similar conditions like the weather, and we must look into it very closely,” said a second source, a former air crash investigator in Indonesia. A Qantas Airways pilot with 25 years’ experience of flying in the region said pilots regularly climb to push above the cloud layer.
“But the airplane’s performance is directly related to the temperature outside and increasing altitude can lead to freezing of the static radar, giving pilots an erroneous radar reading,” said the pilot, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. The resulting danger, the pilot added, was that pilots take incorrect action to control the aircraft, such as pulling up the nose. Such an emergency could explain why the pilots had no time to issue a distress call.
My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501. On behalf of AirAsia my condolences … https://t.co/OJGobL93cR — Tony Fernandes (@tonyfernandes) December 30, 2014
A second seasoned pilot with an Asian carrier added that the crew could, at that point, experience what is called the “startle effect”.
This is “when they are overwhelmed by the situation and unable to think straight about the situation and their options, and act only on what they see in the cockpit controls,” he added. “That, unfortunately, would be the wrong thing to do.”