AirAsia flight QZ8501: Drained relatives start to accept fate of their loved ones

Family members of passengers onboard the plane pray inside a holding room at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya on Dec 31, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Family members of passengers onboard the plane pray inside a holding room at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya on Dec 31, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

SURABAYA, Indonesia (AFP) - Raising their hands in the air and closing their eyes, dozens of grieving relatives sang on Wednesday of their "surrender" to God, wiping away tears as they came to terms with the loss of loved ones on AirAsia flight QZ8501.

They prayed and listened to a priest who gave them words of encouragement in their grief, a day after the discovery of debris and some bodies extinguished their last faint hopes.

"Our God is not evil. One day slowly we will understand. Something beautiful can still come out of this," the priest told them. "There are many tests in this world. We must keep our faith in Jesus."

They then sang hymns accompanied by a guitar. Some broke down and had to be comforted while others wiped tears away and sang even louder. More than 50 had gathered for the brief mass at the crisis centre in Surabaya, the city from where the ill-fated plane departed on Sunday.

Outside, flower-wreathed condolence signboards read: "May you be given strength and fortitude."

As exhausted relatives prayed and awaited news about efforts to retrieve more bodies, others started to prepare funerals for loved ones.

They appeared drained, with eyes red from days of crying.

But in contrast with hysterical scenes a day earlier in the crisis centre, when television footage showed a half-naked body floating in the sea, they appeared resigned to the fact that their loved ones were dead.

Mr Aris Siswanto, 41, who lost his wife of six years Susiyah, 40, was one of five family representatives aboard a military aircraft on Tuesday which found some wreckage and a body.

"I spotted the debris and my heart beat really fast. And then I saw the floating body. Those were clear signs my wife was no more in this world. I couldn't stop the tears from flowing," he told AFP, weeping as he spoke of his wife, a babysitter who was travelling to Singapore with her Indonesian employers and their two-year-old.

"I miss her and it hurts. She was a good woman, a little firm but very faithful. We never fought a day since we got married six years ago. We always joked with each other," he said.

"I want the rescuers to find her body so I can prepare for burial. There's no way I can accept or live in peace until they find her body."

Sixty-year-old Mr Hadi Widjaja had already made funeral preparations for his 32-year-old son Andreas and his daughter-in-law Enny Wahyuni.

"I am Catholic but my son is Muslim so I have prepared a Muslim funeral for him," he told AFP.

"I am so sad that he's gone but this is the will of God," he said.

"I am anxious to know if the rescuers have found their bodies. The President has said that they will do the best they can to find them," he said.

"But if they really cannot find them, I will scatter flowers in the sea here as a way to say goodbye."

Other families were preparing identity documents and medical records to help identify the bodies of their loved ones.

Police have also been taking DNA samples, East Java regional police disaster victims identification (DVI) chief Budiyono told reporters.

"The DVI team has carried out preliminary steps in collecting records from families," he said.

"Since yesterday, 93 families have given us medical records. We have also taken DNA samples from 30 immediate family members," he said.

Mr Budiyono said they were ready for the grim task of handling scores of bodies expected to be retrieved in coming days.

"We have also prepared space to examine the bodies, and to store them in cold storage which can accommodate 150 bodies. We have contacted experts to examine the bodies," he said.

"We are 100 per cent ready."

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