AirAsia crash killed 41 members of one church

Indonesian military personnel carry caskets containing the remains of passengers on board AirAsia flight QZ8501, which crashed into the Java Sea. REUTERS/Athit PerawongmethaREUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

The tragic loss of AirAsia Flight 8501, which fell into the Java Sea on December 28 on the way from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore, has hit Surabaya's Christian community especially hard.

Fully a quarter of the 162 passengers and crew who died were from one church. Pastor Philip Mantofa of Surabaya's Mawar Sharon Church discovered that 41 of his congregation were on the plane, most of them travelling to Singapore on holiday.

Mantofa led a service of prayers and songs yesterday at Surabaya airport. He said: "Some things do not make sense to us but God is bigger than all this. God is not evil ... help us God to move forward even though we are surrounded by darkness."

Among those comforted by counsellors from the church was Linca Gonimasela, whose 13-year-old son Adrian Fernando died with his aunt, uncle and their three-year-old daughter. ""He is my only son," she said. "At first he didn't want to go but later on he was persuaded to join them for the New Year holidays."

Another congregation, Bethany Church, lost five members of the same family. A pastor there, Deddy, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, told the New York Times the crash was a tragedy for all Indonesia. "We can guess from the names that many are Christian and Chinese," he said.

Three members of the Gereja Kristen Indonesia Ngagel church, a Presbyterian congregation of around 2,000, also died. Its pastor Florida Rambu Bangi Roni told USA Today that a planned New Year's Eve service would instead be a memorial for the passengers. "The tragedy of AirAsia is a reminder," she said. "We don't know what time we will die. So we should care for others, make them happy. It's important."

Other churches in the region also cancelled services or changed New Year celebrations into occasions of mourning.

Seven bodies have so far been recovered from the crash site, though bad weather is hampering the search. A large object on the sea bed is thought to be the body of the aircraft, though a positive identification has not so far been possible.