After 46 church members die in AirAsia crash, pastor says 'Don't ask why'

A family member of passengers onboard AirAsia flight QZ8501 prays.(Photo: Reuters)

Churches in Surabaya, Indonesia lost dozens of members in the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 crash on Sunday, but their pastors urged believers not to lose faith.

Pastor Philip Mantofa of the Mawar Sharon megachurch lost 46 members from 14 families, while Agustinus Tri Budi Utomo, vicar-general of the local Catholic church, lost 27 church members.

Flight QZ8501 disappeared about one hour into its journey to Singapore from Surabaya while flying over the Java Sea. Officials lost contact as the plane travelled between Belitung and Kalimantan, Indonesia with 162 people on board.

Days later, wreckage and 46 bodies have been recovered. Some passengers were still strapped in their seats. No survivors have been found, but Pastor Mantofa has not given up hope.

"My heart bleeds," he lamented. "I just pray to God that there will be survivors. We are yet to see that."

Religious leaders of several faiths are tending to the families of the victims as they await word on the identification of their loved ones. The crisis centre was moved from the airport to a police hospital, and songs, prayers, and cries can be heard throughout the facility.

The vicar-general hoped their hearts would be comforted.

"Don't ask why, because why can weaken your faith and hope," he told families during a prayer session.

The cause of the crash is not yet known, and the plane's black box has not been recovered. Authorities did discover that the company did not have permission to fly that route on the day of the crash, and all AirAsia flights between Indonesia and Singapore have been suspended.

Specialist equipment arrived on Friday to aid in the search, but could not be used due to high waves.

Sources said that the plane may have attempted an "unbelievably" steep climb to avoid bad weather that may have caused an aerodynamic stall.

The plane was traveling at 32,000 feet when it requested to climb to 38,000 feet. That request was denied due to air traffic. The go-ahead to climb to 34,000 feet was met with no response. 

An investigation into the crash is pending, and a search for passengers, crew, the fuselage, and black box continues.