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Missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 - Sister-in-law of family of four says: I'll never stop calling their phone

Calls after calls were made, in hopes of a familiar voice at the receiving end.

The response each time: Eerie silence.

Ms Juliana's tireless attempts to reach her sister-in-law and family remains futile. It has been so since Sunday.

She is tired and though she tries to fight the tears, they flow easily.

She choked as she described to The New Paper how her sister-in-law Indahju Liangsih and Indahju's husband Herumanto Tanus, and their two children, Nico Giovanni and Justin Giovanni, were on the missing Indonesia AirAsia flight QZ8501.

It has been over 48 hours and with each passing minute, hope struggles to restrain despair.

Ms Juliana, 38, is refusing to give up hope. Not yet. Not now.

So she continues to wait and pray for her family's safe return.

"Even this morning, I was still calling each of them, waiting for someone to pick up my call," Ms Juliana, who goes by only one name. She spoke in a telephone interview from Surabaya's Juanda International Airport.

Ms Juliana and her family have been waiting at the airport's holding area since 10am yesterday. She's not going to rest yet, she said.

Not until her family is found.

That she owes her niece, the only member of the family who was not on the flight.

She said that Nico, 17, and Justin, nine, were with their parents on their way to visit their sister Chiara Natasha, who is a student in Singapore.

Meanwhile Chiara, 15, has returned to Surabaya after being told her family was on QZ8501. Clinging tightly to her family portrait, Chiara told Malaysia's Harian Metro:

"I am still in shock. I cannot believe what's happening after being told my whole family was on the flight."

She said they were all supposed to meet in Singapore before returning to Surabaya as a family. It would have been a belated Christmas gathering for the family.

Chiara added: "I've been studying at Methodist Girls School in Singapore for two years and did not get to celebrate Christmas because of school activities."

She learnt of the missing flight only after a relative called her.

"I'm stunned and speechless, and have been crying over my family's fate."

ANXIOUS

Another anxious person at the Juanda International airport was Ms Nana, who was holding a photo outside the crisis room, reported Bloomberg. She claimed she had worked for the family for 18 years.

The family maid was in tears as she spoke to reporters, saying she had looked after the children "since they were babies".

Mr Herumanto's last words to her before the flight was that they were meeting Chiara in Singapore and for her to "take care in Surabaya".

For now Ms Juliana is hanging to memories of the family dinner on Christmas eve at a restaurant in Surabaya.

The extended family is close-knit. Ms Juliana and Ms Indahju often talk on the phone and go on shopping trips together.

On Friday, two days before the plane was reported missing, they spoke at length.

"Everything sounded fine, it was normal. We always talk about our family," Ms Juliana said.

Then the family left for their trip. A few hours after their flight, Ms Juliana heard about the missing plane on the local radio and then from social media.

"The first thing I did was call each of them, again and again, but no answer. So I went to the airport to find out (what had happened)," she said, adding that she could barely sleep on Sunday night.

"How do I even begin to describe how I feel? There are just no words.

"It's been this long and the plane still cannot be found."

But she's not giving up yet. As long as there is hope.

Search-and-locate operations are underway in the Java Sea.

The chief of Indonesia's search-and-rescue agency, Basarnas, told reporters in Indonesia yesterday that the operation will expand to include land searches today.

Ms Juliana is voice shook towards the end.

"I still hope they will return safely to us," she said.

We will not stop praying

"We'll be praying... and we'll never stop."

That is the cry of faith among friends of Nico Giovanni.

Nico, 17, was on AirAsia flight QZ8501 when it went missing en route from Surabaya to Singapore on Sunday.

The Indonesian holds a Singapore Ministry of Education scholarship and had studied at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent).

He recently completed his first year at St Andrew's Junior College (SAJC).

His friends at ACS(I) described him as a friend who is always jovial and ever ready to lend a helping hand.

"He's good at everything, especially maths," said ACS(I) student Joshua Tay, 17.

"He joked a lot but was always available to help us with homework and our studies."

Joshua, who was classmates with Nico for the two years he was in ACS(I), said Nico would help with homework before school even started, taking time to explain how to solve equations.

HAPPY

"He is always happy, always jovial, and he just shrugs off his difficulties," said Joshua.

"He was one of the best students, scoring seven points for his L1R5 in his O levels - even though he struggled with English."

Joshua added that Nico, who stayed in the boarding school while at ACS(I), excelled in badminton and was also in the St John Ambulance Brigade.

"I pray that Nico and his family will come back safe and unscathed," said Joshua.

"But especially Nico, because he was a close friend."

On Facebook, Nico's friend Fernaldy Frumentius posted a picture of Nico with the caption: "We'll be praying for you and we'll never stop before we receive any confirmation."

Another friend from SAJC, who declined to be named, said: "He is kind-hearted and someone who always brings joy to others."

SAJC principal Lee Bee Yann said: "The college is in contact with Nico's relatives, and our thoughts and prayers are with them.

"We are also providing support to our students."

He is always happy, always jovial, and he just shrugs off his difficulties.

- Joshua Tay on his former classmate Nico Giovanni, who was on AirAsia flight QZ8501

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