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Despair and denial as AirAsia flight QZ8501 wreckage, bodies found

Since last Sunday, they had been bracing themselves for the worst while hoping for the best.

Yesterday afternoon, their hopes were shattered when Indonesian television footage showed a body floating in the sea during aerial searches for AirAsia flight QZ8501.

The relatives had gathered in a packed room at Juanda Crisis Centre in Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, from where the Airbus A320-200 had taken off before vanishing during a storm on Sunday.

They were then told by the Indonesian authorities that six bodies had been found, said Madam Jies-Ecana Syendra, who was awaiting news of her elder brother, Mr Charly Gunawan, 48, and his family.

It immediately sparked an outburst of emotions and chaos.

Some began crying hysterically and fainted. At least two family members were carried out on stretchers.

AirAsia and Indonesian authorities later said that wreckage and bodies, which were confirmed to be from flight QZ8501, had been found in the Karimata Strait in South East Belitung.

For many, it was confirmation of their most dreaded fear - the plane had crashed and their loved ones were gone.

But Madam Syendra, 38, was clinging on to the faintest glimmer of hope that her brother, five of his family members and his daughter's fiancé were somehow still alive.

She told The New Paper over the phone: "I refuse to believe the news because as far as I'm concerned, my brother and his family have not been found.

"Until I see their bodies, I strongly believe they are in a safe place, protected by God."

Madam Syendra was frustrated at the slow pace of the search operations.

"There's still a chance of finding my brother if the authorities expand their search," she said.

"There's still a chance."

Then she broke down, her frail voice sounding more desperate as she asked TNP: "Why isn't Indonesia asking for more help from neighbouring countries?

"I urge you to ask your government to send as many ships and airplanes as possible so that my brother can be found quickly."

Her distress was more poignant for the fact that it was a joyous occasion the last time she saw her brother.

The family had gathered for a birthday party last Saturday.

When he told her he wanted an early night's rest because he had an early flight and had not packed, she thought nothing of it.

But Madam Syendra now wishes that she could relive that moment.

"If I had known that was the last time I would see him, I would have hugged him tight and never let go," she said.

Year-end holidays are an annual ritual for the family and their destination this year was Singapore.

Madam Syendra said that their parents had died many years ago and Mr Gunawan, as an older brother and fifth child, had stepped up to take care of her and their eight siblings, all of whom share a tight-knit bond.

"He was more than a brother, he was like a parent to me," she said fondly of Mr Gunawan, with whom she used to speak on the phone daily.

"He was always there to give me advice, good advice, when I needed help."

She spoke of her brother with affection, calling him "a kind, good man" who was also respectful and loving towards his mother-in-law, wife and children.

Sobbing, she added: "I just want them to all come back together, safe and sound, so we can all be reunited again.

"I love them so much."

"If I had known that was the last time I would see him, I would have hugged him tight and never let go."

- Madam Jies-Ecana Syendra, on her brother, Charly

'This will close a painful chapter'

SHOCK AND GRIEF: Family members of passengers onboard AirAsia flight QZ8501 bursting into tears when they are told of the discovery of the wreckage and bodies in the sea. - PHOTO: REUTERS

- TNP INFOGRAPHICS: TEOH YI CHIE

It was the worst news for the relatives of the passengers of AirAsia flight QZ8501 after more than two days of not knowing what had happened to their loved ones.

But the discovery of wreckage and bodies from the ill-fated flight yesterday afternoon, while hard to accept, at least gives them a chance for closure.

Some, like Mr Hartono, whose daughter, Ms Ana Widyawati, 37; her husband, Mr Wiranto Kusuma, 49; and their son, Nelson, 10; were on the flight, were already preparing for the worst.

When The New Paper called him yesterday evening, the 69-year-old was at the local police station to give physical descriptions of his missing relatives and family photos to investigators to help in the identification of the bodies.

Mr Hartono said in Bahasa Indonesia: "I'm okay. I accept it if they're dead.

"It's just that they've been going to Singapore often for holidays and medical treatment, and nobody expected that it would all end tragically wrong."

Similarly, the uncertainty is almost gone for Mr Rony, the uncle of Mr Reggy Ardhi, 40, who was travelling with his wife and three children.

Mr Rony, 50, told TNP: "Now, all we hope for is that their bodies will be found and returned to the family. This will close a painful chapter in our family."

Mr Dwijanto, 60, who goes by one name like many other Indonesians, told AFP: "My heart will be totally crushed if it's true. I will lose a son."

When footage of a floating body was showing on television in a room in Surabaya where the relatives had gathered, a female AirAsia officer shouted at the TV media: "Is it possible for you not to show a picture of the dead? Please do not show a picture of a dead body. That's crazy."

In Malaysia, families of passengers on the Malaysia Airlines MH370 flight that went missing without a trace in March hoped the victims of the latest tragedy could at least have a proper burial, AFP reported.

"The families can now have closure and peace of mind, which I am dying for," said Mr Selamat Omar, whose 29-year-old son was on MH370.

Bodies found: Two female, one male

Indonesian search crews have recovered debris and bodies floating in the sea from AirAsia flight QZ8501 that went missing three days ago with 162 people on board, as investigators seek to determine what brought down the plane.

AERIAL SEARCH: A member of the Indonesian air force on alert during search and rescue operations. - PHOTO: AFP

AERIAL SEARCH: Among the items spotted is debris believed to be from the missing aircraft. - PHOTO: AFP

Among the discovered objects is what appears to be an emergency door as well as submerged items resembling plane parts, Mr F H Bambang Sulistyo, head of the national search and rescue agency, said yesterday in Jakarta.

Parts of the jetliner's interior, including an oxygen tank, were brought to Pangkalan Bun, the nearest town. Another find was a bright blue plastic suitcase, entirely unscratched, mashable.com reported.

"We spotted about 10 big objects and many more small white objects which we could not photograph," Indonesian Air Force official Agus Dwi Putranto said during a press conference, while showing photos of the objects.

"It is not really clear... it could be the wall of the plane or the door of the plane," he continued. "Let's pray that those objects are what we are really trying to find."

Two female bodies and one male body were retrieved, Mr Bambang said. No mention was made of survivors, the Washington Post reported.

There was confusion about the number of bodies with one official earlier saying that 40 bodies were recovered.

MISCOMMUNICATION

Navy spokesman Manahan Simorangkir told AFP earlier that according to naval radio a warship had recovered more than 40 bodies from the sea. But he later said that report was a miscommunication by his staff.

The crash site is in an area around Pangkalan Bun, about 1,000km south-east of Singapore, the destination of the flight.

Water in the area is shallow, at 25m to 30mdeep, and authorities have prepared divers for the search for the flight data and voice recorders and further evidence.

"It wasn't a controlled ditching," Mr Paul Hayes, safety director at London-based aviation consulting company Ascend Worldwide Ltd said. "That's clear from the finding of bodies that don't have life jackets on."

The Java Sea covers about 320,000 sq km, bordered by the islands of Borneo to the north and Java to the south.

Waters in the region are known to be shallow, which analysts and oceanographers have said will help in the search.

So far, no pings have been detected from the plane's black box, the Indonesian air force said.