News

Air Asia QZ8501: Sorrow in Surabaya, grim in Changi

A two-year-old Singapore girl is among the 162 passengers and crew missing after AirAsia flight QZ8501 lost contact en route from Surabaya to Singapore yesterday.

The little girl was on board the aircraft with her British father on the early morning flight.

Waiting anxiously for her at the arrival hall in Changi Airport Terminal 1 were the girl's mother and grandparents.

Flight QZ8501 was supposed to land in Singapore at 8.30am yesterday but never arrived.

The flight, with 16 children and one infant on board, lost contact with air traffic control at 7.17am Singapore time, while still in Indonesian air space.

Of the passengers, 149 are Indonesian, three are from South Korea and one each from Malaysia, Singapore and the UK.

Six of the crew are Indonesians while one, from France, is the co-pilot.

By 9.30am, about a dozen family members, who had been waiting at the Terminal 1 arrival hall for QZ8501, were taken to a relatives' holding area in Terminal 2.

As of yesterday evening, 47 relatives and friends of 57 passengers on board the missing plane had registered at the holding area, the Changi Airport Group (CAG) said.

Among them were the girl's mother and grandparents.

The area was cordoned off from members of the public, with airport staff and auxiliary police officers keeping watch at the entrance.

Large purple screens were later brought in to block the view of the area after a crowd of curious onlookers had gathered.

As family and friends of the passengers streamed in, most had grim expressions and politely declined to speak to the media.

Among those who stopped was Indonesian Louise Sidharta, 25.

She and her fiance were coming to Singapore for a final holiday before getting married in May, but had planned to arrive on separate flights, she said.

Miss Sidharta's fiance, Mr Alain Oktavianus Siauw, 28, was on board Flight QZ8501 with his mother and three brothers.

She took a 1.25pm flight and was supposed to meet Mr Siauw here, but heard the news on the radio while on the way to the Surabaya airport and immediately went on the Internet to check.

"My heart knew by then that my fiance was on that flight," she said.

Calling his relatives, her worst fears were confirmed.

COMPOSED

Maintaining her composure, she said: "We have to stay positive and hope that they (loved ones) could be found soon."

Also at the holding area was an Indonesian woman who declined to be named.

Four relatives were on board QZ8501, she said, including two aged 12 and 17.

They were coming here for a holiday, said the woman, adding: "There is no information yet from the aircraft."

On hand in the relatives holding area were 36 CAG care officers and four counsellors from the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Arrangements have also been made for next-of-kin here to travel to Indonesia, and 16 next-of-kin have taken up the offer.

Several officials, including Indonesia's ambassador to Singapore Andri Hadi and Singapore's deputy prime minister Teo Chee Hean, visited the relatives' holding area at Changi Airport.

The New Paper understands that by 9pm yesterday, all families had left the holding area.

They are believed to have been taken out via a separate exit to avoid waiting media. Those who have no accommodation were also given hotel rooms paid for by AirAsia.

DISTRESS IN INDONESIA

In Surabaya, anxious relatives of passengers on the plane awaited news.

"I should have been on the flight together with my friends," a man named Purnomo told TVOne in Surabaya.

"We, seven people, had planned to go to Singapore for vacation but this morning I had an emergency. I had my passport in hand but had to cancel the trip."

At a media briefing yesterday afternoon, a senior official at Indonesia's Transport Ministry said no distress signal had been sent by Flight QZ8501, reported AFP.

Mr Djoko Murjatmodjo, who is air transportation director of the ministry, said Flight QZ8501 was between the Indonesian port of Tanjung Pandan and the town of Pontianak, in the West Kalimantan province on Borneo island, when it went missing.

The Airbus A320-200 aircraft had been flying at 32,000 feet and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet to avoid clouds, Mr Murjatmodjo added.

Tanjung Pandan is the main town on Belitung island, roughly halfway between Surabaya and Singapore. There was bad weather over the island at the time.

The aircraft was operated by AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of Malaysian-based AirAsia.

AirAsia's flamboyant boss Tony Fernandes, a former record industry executive who acquired the then-failing airline in 2001, flew to Surabaya yesterday, where most of the passengers are from. 

Reports by Judith Tan, Juliana June Rasul, Elizabeth Law and Jennifer Dhanaraj

Photos by Benjamin Seetor, Phyllicia Wang

Cancelled trip due to illness

A grandfather's ill health led to a family of five cancelling their tickets on the AirAsia flight that went missing.

Indonesian businessman Chandra Susanto said that he, his wife Inge, an accountant, and their children, Christopher, 10, Nadine, seven, and Felix, five, had confirmed tickets on QZ8501.

They had made plans months ahead to take a holiday in Singapore, but had to call it off just before leaving.

"My father became ill so we had to cancel our flight," said Mr Susanto, who lives in Surabaya, from where the Airbus aircraft took off.

"It was a difficult decision to make because my son Christopher was so disappointed. He had been looking forward to the holiday for a long time."

They decided not to go only on Saturday and did not know that the flight was missing till his sister called yesterday to find out whether they were safe.

"She was so scared. She had seen the news on TV," Britain's Daily Mail quoted Mr Susanto as saying.

"I am very thankful to God for his mercy to me and my family. But I am so sad and very sorry for the people on the plane," he said.

"Our lives have changed. We are so grateful. We have an opportunity to be the best people we can and to help others."

The family had paid more than 8 million rupiah (S$850) for their return tickets, reported Bloomberg.

Called President Joko Widodo to express concern and offer help. Two RSAF C-130 search and locate aircraft are on standby, ready to go. Our ministers are following up.

- PM Lee Hsien Loong in a Facebook post

AirlineQZ8501SingaporeUncategorisedAir TravelMissing Person