AirAsia flight QZ8501: Grieving family haunted by victim's final birthday wish

The wake of 44-year-old The Meiji Thejakusuma (left) and her 10-year-old daughter Jie Stevie, who were on AirAsia flight QZ8501 with five other family members, at Adi Jasa funeral home in Surabaya on Jan 4, 2015. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
The wake of 44-year-old The Meiji Thejakusuma (left) and her 10-year-old daughter Jie Stevie, who were on AirAsia flight QZ8501 with five other family members, at Adi Jasa funeral home in Surabaya on Jan 4, 2015. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SURABAYA, Indonesia (AFP) - When fashion store owner The Meiji Thejakusuma bid goodbye to relatives before boarding Indonesia AirAsia flight QZ501, she lightheartedly quipped she would "spend time alone at sea" on her birthday, which she planned to mark with a New Year's cruise.

Soon after the plane crashed into waters off the island of Borneo and her body was recovered from the Java Sea.

On Jan 3, when Thejakusuma would have turned 45 on the celebratory cruise visiting Malaysia and Thailand, her body was returned to her extended family in Surabaya.

Her nephew Eric Edi Santo, a cafe owner, relayed his aunt's haunting last words to him as he spoke to AFP at the funeral parlour where a vigil was being held, attended by abound 100 friends and relatives.

"We asked her 'how are you going to celebrate your birthday'. She said jokingly: 'I'll spend time alone at sea'," Santo said.

"Maybe God was trying to be good to her, and didn't want her to spend her birthday alone at sea, so he brought her back."

Thejakusuma got on the plane in her home city of Surabaya on Dec 28 with her husband, mother, three children and prospective son-in-law.

They were headed for Singapore where they would start their cruise, but 40 minutes later disaster struck and the aircraft crashed into the water.

The bodies of Thejakusuma and her 10-year-old daughter Stevie are among the 37 that have so far been recovered, with teams still searching for the remains of the other 125 passengers, most of them Indonesian.

They included Thejakusuma's 48-year-old husband Jie Charly Gunawan, her mother Jo Indri, 82, and her two other children, 19-year-old Steven and Stephanie, 28.

Stephanie's fiance Christanto Leoma Hutama was also with them.

"We hope for a survivor... at least just one of them. I hope that one of them can come back alive," Santo said.

"If not, we hope that all of their bodies at least will be here, we don't want any missing bodies. They died so tragically, at least I want them to have a proper burial."

Thejakusuma was the owner of clothes store Planet One in Surabaya, and was known for being hardworking and humble despite her own affluence, said another of her nephews, Agus Panjaya.

A devout Buddhist, she regularly made financial contributions to her local temple as well as to orphanages, and she was always quick to help her relatives.

Panjaya recalled when he was still at high school and living in a dormitory in the East Java city of Malang, when his aunt and uncle would take turns to drive two hours on weekends to visit him and take him sightseeing around the city.

"They did not want me to feel lonely," he said.

"It was in my aunt's character to just help people whenever she could, poor people, her own family, anyone. That's why everyone feels a deep sense of loss."

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