KULA LUMPUR: Among those on board were Briton and his two-year-old daughter, and a family of South Korean Christian missionaries and scholarship students, businessmen and missionaries, sons and daughters, husbands and wives. On Sunday morning, the only thing that connected them was a ticket on AirAsia flight QZ8501, a two-hour red-eye haul from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore. They would have been expecting to walk into the gleaming city state’s humid air in no time and get on with their lives.
The fate of the flight’s 155 passengers and seven crew members is now uncertain: at 6.17am, about 40 minutes after takeoff, the flight vanished from radars over the Java Sea. No signs of the plane have been found, despite an elaborate international search and rescue operation. The hope of finding survivors is fading.
In the meantime, a diverse portrait of those onboard has begun to emerge. The vast majority of passengers were Indonesian; there were also three South Koreans, one Malaysian, a French co-pilot, one Briton and one Singaporean. Among the crew were two pilots, four flight attendants and one engineer. The passengers included 16 children and an infant.
Friends and family members have gathered in cordoned-off zones at Singapore’s Changi airport and Surabaya’s Juanda international airport to await briefings. At Changi on Monday afternoon, a young woman made her way up to a cordon around the relatives’ holding area and put a small square board covered in Post-It notes on the ground. Each Post-It held a message of hope and prayer for those within. “We feel your terrible sadness and pain,” said one note. “The rest of the world gives you a very big hug at this time.”
Many family members are preparing for the worst. “I knew about this incident from watching TV and tried to get more information from my family,” Oei Endang Sulsilowati, whose brother Oei Jimmy Sentosa Winata was on the plane with his wife and two children, told CNN. “We don’t know what to do. We are just waiting for news.”
The British passenger, 48-year-old Chi-Man Choi, was travelling home with his two year-old Singaporean daughter, Zoe; they sat in the flight’s first row, in seats 1B and 1C. Choi graduated from Essex University and worked for the French multinational company Alstom Power, according to his LinkedIn profile. He had originally planned to fly to Singapore earlier, with Zoe’s five year-old brother Luca and mother Wee Mei-Yi, and booked the seats on QZ8501 when he could not get other tickets.
Choi’s brother Choi Chi-Wai, 46, told the Guardian that he would fly to Singapore in the next few days to support his sister-in-law and the rest of the family. “There’s been no news officially, but I guess you would kind of hope there’d be more information,” he said. “But obviously we are concerned and we are prepared for the worst. We also try not to speculate.”
According to Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper, the three South Koreans on board – Park Seong Beom, his wife, Lee Kyung Hwa, and their 11-month-old daughter Park Yu Na – were a family of Christian missionaries travelling to Singapore to renew their visas for another year in Indonesia. The family was from Yeosu, a city on South Korea’s southern coast, the Straits Times reported, citing South Korean media. Park was a theology graduate and was dispatched to Indonesia three years ago.
Another passenger was reported to be Nico Giovanni, an 18-year-old Indonesian national who had recently finished his first year at Singapore’s St Andrew’s Junior College on a scholarship from the Singaporean education ministry. He was travelling with his family, according to the Straits Times. “Nico is very reserved,” a friend named Michael told the newspaper. “He is hard-working and respectful.”
Florentina Maria Widodo, a 26-year-old biology teacher at Singapore’s Hwa Chong Institution, was also on the plane, according to the Straits Times. Her Singaporean boyfriend Andy Paul Chen confirmed that she was on the flight, and said he was travelling to Surabaya to be with her family.