AirAsia flight QZ8501: Restless night awaits relatives of passengers on missing plane

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandez (right) seen arriving at Soekarno-Hatta Airport Terminal 3 in Jakarta at about 1.30am on Dec 29, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandez (right) seen arriving at Soekarno-Hatta Airport Terminal 3 in Jakarta at about 1.30am on Dec 29, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
A man (centre) asks an officer for information about his family member who was onboard AirAsia flight QZ8501 at a waiting area in Surabaya's Juanda International Airport on Dec 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A man (centre) asks an officer for information about his family member who was onboard AirAsia flight QZ8501 at a waiting area in Surabaya's Juanda International Airport on Dec 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SURABAYA (Reuters) - More than 100 distraught relatives of passengers aboard missing Flight QZ8501 were hunkered down at a makeshift crisis centre at Indonesia's Surabaya airport in East Java on Sunday, waiting anxiously for news.

AirAsia Malaysia chief Tony Fernandes was at the airport himself trying to comfort the families, but the airline could offer little besides food, a hotel for the night and assurances that all was being done to find the lost plane. "We've been given accommodation from AirAsia but I couldn't rest with this on my mind," said one man who gave his name as Haryanto and who has four relatives on board. He said he had been waiting at the airport for 10 hours.

Fernandes, a Premier League soccer club chairman and former Warner Music executive, addressed the relatives at a makeshift crisis centre set up in offices next to the terminal.

"Indonesian authorities are doing their best now for search and rescue, it's best not to speculate," he said. "Our first priority is to look after the families."

Mr Fernandez arrived in Jakarta after meeting families in Surabaya.

Information on the fate of the plane that went missing on Sunday is scant. The pilots asked to change course to avoid bad weather about midway through a journey from the provincial capital Surabaya to Singapore, but issued no distress call.

News came that the search for the Indonesia AirAsia Airbus 320-200 was called off at nightfall, to resume at first light.

Relatives wandered restlessly around the airport, where a notice board displayed the names of the missing passengers. On board were 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans and one each from Singapore, Malaysia and Britain, plus a French pilot.

AirAsia is not used to crisis management, having not had a crash since it started operating in 2002.