AirAsia Tragedy: Relatives Faint As Rescuers Recover 40 Corpses
‘PAPA, please come home. ‘I still need you.’
This was the heartbreaking message posted on the social media on Tuesday by Angela Ranastianis, the daughter of Captain Iriyanto, the pilot of the ill-fated AirAsia plane which disappeared on Sunday morning.
Angela certainly was not aware that rescue teams had retrieved and tallied a grim inventory of bodies and debris from the plane off the coast of southwestern Borneo in Indonesia.
She had also posted Iriyanto’s picture on the social media hours after her grandfather, said the last time he saw his son was at the funeral of his other son who died of diabetes last week.
The recovery of about 40 bodies and items belonging to the 162 people aboard the plane coincided with reports that another AirAsia aircraft with 153 passengers and crew overshot the runway at an airport in the Philippines, forcing passengers to make an urgent exit on emergency slides.
Indonesian navy spokesman Manahan Simorangkir had earlier on Tuesday told the Agence France Presse that, “Based on the navy radio, it has been reported that the warship Bung Tomo has retrieved 40 bodies and the number is growing.”
Search and rescue teams said that three items in particular — the suitcase and parts they identified as an aspirator assembly and a reservoir slide craft — helped them determine that the debris came from Flight 8501.
They added that the pieces of the wreckage were found about 60 miles southeast of the last known position of the plane — the opposite direction from the jet’s path, a fact that was not explained.
The teams also spotted what they said might be a larger submerged piece of the fuselage of the Airbus A320-200, which was operated by the Indonesian affiliate of AirAsia.
An Indonesian television station showed uncensored footage of some corpses floating in the sea, causing the victims’ relatives – who were watching live reports at crisis-centre at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya – to burst into tears, with some fainting and requiring hospital treatment.
The television station also showed a rescuer descending from a helicopter toward a corpse, which like other bodies found was not wearing a life jacket.
Throughout Tuesday afternoon, authorities built up an inventory of debris collected by ships and helicopters from the sea surface, including life vests, aircraft parts and what appeared to be a small blue suitcase.
Indonesia’s President, Joko Widodo, who met with families of the victims at the crisis centre, said, “I am so very sorry for this accident. I hope families can stay strong while facing the tragedy.”
Also, the Head of AirAsia, Tony Fernandes, said, “My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501.”
He added in a Twitter message soon after the debris was discovered, that “words cannot express how sorry I am.”
Fernandes said later that he did not want to speculate about the cause of the disaster until the plane’s flight data recorders were recovered and analysed.
But he noted that “bad weather is the short-term conclusion — weather in Southeast Asia is bad now.”
Some of the relatives of passengers stood despondently outside the airport in Surabaya with one of them, Ifan Joko, saying, I’m still hoping my brother is safe.”
His brother, Charly Gunawan, who was travelling to Singapore to spend the New Year’s holiday, was among the 162 people onboard.
“If the passengers are dead, I want the bodies brought back to Surabaya,” Ifan said. “I will pay the bill myself if I have to.”
The crash was a particular loss to Surabaya’s ethnic Chinese community. Flights from Surabaya to Singapore serve as shuttles for residents who do business in Singapore or have family members there.
The air disaster seems to have also disproportionately affected Surabaya’s Christian community.
Leaders of Bethany, a massive, three-storey mega-church in a wealthy neighbourhood on the outskirts of Surabaya, pored over the plane’s manifest when it became available on Sunday and determined that at least five passengers were members of families who attend the church.
Deddy, one of the church pastors, said the crash was a tragedy for all of Indonesia. But, he said, “We can guess from the names that many are Christian and Chinese.”
On Tuesday near crash, AirAsia said no passenger and crew member was hurt.
The statement reads, ‘AirAsia Philippines confirms flight Z2 272 from Manila skidded off the Kalibo International Airport runway at 5.43pm upon landing. All 153 passengers and crew were able to disembark safely, no injuries reported.’
‘All passengers are now at a hotel assisted by AirAsia staff.”