Families of AirAsia flight passengers given support through the ‘nightmare’

Posted at 4:06 PM, Dec 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-28 18:07:38-05
By Joshua Berlinger and Ralph Ellis


(CNN) — For loved ones of those on board AirAsia Flight QZ8501, it’s too painful to bear. They’re teary-eyed, exhausted, confused and afraid.

Gathered at several airports in the region, they’re awaiting word on what happened to the plane. Many are in shock.

Related story: AirAsia Flight QZ8501 with 162 on board goes missing en route to Singapore

Some are grieving; others exude pure despair. Children are among them, in some cases clearly too young to grasp what’s going on.

“I should have gone with them but I canceled it two weeks ago as I had something to do,” one relative of a passenger said, sobbing, according to a translation by Channel NewsAsia.

Speaking at Juanda International Airport in East Java, Indonesia, the relative — whose name was not given — said, “This morning before I went to pray, one of them called me and jokingly said, ‘See you in the new year and goodbye forever.’ That’s all, and then the bad news came.”

Louise Sidharta, at Changi Airport in Singapore, said her fiance and his family were on the flight.

“It was supposed to be his last vacation with his family” before the wedding, she said.

‘We still have hope’

William Kai, waiting in Surabaya for news of his brother-in-law and three other relatives who were on the flight, said he’s hopeful the plane will be found soon, according to the BBC.

“This flight is only from Surabaya to Singapore, so it’s not like it’s missing in the Indian Ocean or the big seas,” he said. “It’s just there. So it should be easier to find.”

He also said he’s not giving up hope for the safe return of his relatives.

“We still have hope,” he said. “We cannot lose hope.”

The losses will be felt around the world. While nearly everyone on the flight is from Indonesia, there are also three South Koreans, one Malaysian, a French co-pilot, one Briton and one Singaporean, the airline said.

The British national is Indonesia-based energy executive Choi Chi Man, and the Singaporean citizen is his 2-year-old daughter, Zoe, Channel NewsAsia reported.

Their names are on the manifest released by the airline.

Singapore’s Civil Aviation Authority also said the Singaporean citizen is a 2-year-old girl, daughter of the British national. The ministry contacted her mother and grandparents.

Airline vows to help families through the ‘nightmare’

Sunu Widyatmoko, the CEO of AirAsia Indonesia, said the company’s “main priority is keeping the families of our passengers and colleagues informed on the latest developments.”

“We will do everything possible to support them as the investigation continues and have already mobilized a support team to help take care of their immediate needs, including accommodation and travel arrangements,” he said.

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes took to Twitter to console families and offer more information.

“I am touched by the massive show of support especially from my fellow airlines,” he wrote. “This is my worse nightmare. But there is no stopping.”

The company switched its logo on its Twitter and Facebook pages from bright red to gray.

Indonesian state media released a flight manifest. Of the 155 passengers, 16 were children and one was an infant. There was one national from Singapore, one from Malaysia and another the United Kingdom on board. Three passengers were South Korean, and the rest were from Indonesia.

Six of the seven crew members were also Indonesian; the French Foreign Ministry identified the first officer as French national Remi Emmanuel Plesel.

Families first

Peter Goelz, a CNN aviation analyst, chaired a task force that wrote the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996, which the U.S. Congress passed in order to provide guidance on how to deal with families when responding to these types of crises.

That legislation “set the worldwide standard” in aviation disaster response, according to Goelz, and iterations of it have been adopted by “virtually every country” — including Indonesia.

“The key is families need to hear it first. They need to hear what’s going on, and they need to hear it from the investigators,” Goelz said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “If you don’t get the information to the families, it’s just torturous.”

Pope Francis said Sunday his thoughts “are with those on board the missing AirAsia plane” and with their loved ones.

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