AirAsia flight QZ8501: Pilot Iriyanto was one of military academy's best graduates

JAKARTA (JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The pilot of AirAsia flight QZ8501, Captain Iriyanto, 53, has been described by colleagues and neighbours as a warm figure with an extraordinary performance as a jet fighter pilot prior to taking early retirement to join commercial airlines.

Capt Iriyanto started out his career as an F-5 and F-16 fighter pilot after having graduated from the Adi Sucipto Air Force pilot school in 1983.

He joined the 14th squadron at Iswahjudi Air Force Base (AFB) in Madiun, East Java, staying for around 10 years.

"He was one of the best graduates," said former coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister Djoko Suyanto, who once trained Capt Iriyanto, as quoted by tempo.co.

Adisucipto Air Base commander Yadi I Sutanadika deemed Capt Iriyanto a "smart pilot".

"Iriyanto was known as one of the 'Flight Leaders' on F-5 Tigers, the leading fighter jet in the 1980s," said First Marshal Yadi, who once served with Capt Iriyanto in the 14th squadron, on Monday, as quoted by Antara news agency.

In the mid-1990s, Capt Iriyanto took early retirement and landed a job with commercial airline Adam Air, which was forced to close in 2008 after a string of accidents.

Capt Iriyanto also served with Merpati Airline and Sriwijaya Airline before joining AirAsia.

AirAsia said Capt Iriyanto had logged a total of 20,537 flying hours, of which 6,053 flying hours were logged during his tenure with AirAsia, while the co-pilot, French national Remi Emmanual Plesel, had 2,247 hours.

Capt Iriyanto, born on Dec 12, 1961, married his wife, Ms Widya Sukati Putri, before settling in Sidoarjo, East Java - an hour's drive from Surabaya in East Java, where flight QZ8501 departed for Singapore.

The couple have two children - Ms Angela Anggi Ranastianis, 25, and eight-year-old Arya Galih Gegana.

"Papa, come home, I still need you. Bring back my papa. Papa, please come home. Papa needs to be found. Papa should come home," wrote Ms Angela on her Path page late on Sunday, begging for her father to come home after the aircraft, carrying 162 people, disappeared on Sunday morning.

Capt Iriyanto, who has a penchant for classic motorcycles, is a member of the local big motorcycle club, MBC.

Three days before his last flight, Capt Iriyanto went to Yogyakarta to commemorate the seventh day of the death of his younger brother, Edi, as well as to take a vacation with his family. Mr Edi had died due to illness.

"The last time I met Mas Ir was three days ago," said his cousin Hendro Kusumo Broto, using another name for Capt Iriyanto, as quoted in kompas.com on Sunday.

According to Mr Hendro, Capt Iriyanto went to Yogyakarta with his two children, but later left Yogyakarta for Surabaya to go to work, while his two children stayed in Yogyakarta on vacation.

Capt Iriyanto reportedly was known to his neighbours for active social engagement and was active in the community in Sidoarjo where he lived, serving as a head of the neighborhood unit for two years.

"[HE] put potted plants on the sidewalks from the main entrance [of the neighbourhood unit] so that it looked green," said Mr Bagianto Djojonegoro, an adviser to the community unit where his residence is located.

According to Mr Bagianto, Capt Iriyanto, who flew around four times a week, often spent his days off with his family and neighbors. The missing pilot was also known for being active in the mosque.

Capt Iriyanto's neighbors gathered and conducted prayers for his safety at his house in Pondok Jati housing complex in Sidoarjo, East Java, on Sunday evening.

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