NEW: "Our classroom will be quiet without him," one teacher says as a new semester at school starts after the loss of two students
162 passengers were aboard missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501
A man who was about to be married. Missionaries, a biology teacher and an energy executive. Families on vacation. Pilots with years of experience.
The lives of 162 people intersected December 28 on what was supposed to be a roughly two-hour AirAsia flight from Indonesia to Singapore.
Now their families are dealing with the likelihood all lives were lost, after Indonesian officials announced they’d found debris from Flight QZ8501 and some passengers’ bodies.
Many family members were seen in tears as airline CEO Tony Fernandes tweeted his condolences: “My heart is filled with sadness… words cannot express how sorry I am.”
As they wait for confirmation of the fate of their loved ones, details are emerging about the lives of the 138 adults, 16 children and one infant on board. Here’s what we know so far:
Nikolas Theo Santoso and Elbert Soesilo
Wednesday was supposed to be the first day of a new semester at IPH School in Surabaya, Indonesia.
But instead of children’s laughter, the school grounds were filled with sobs of grief as the Christian school held a memorial service for Nikolas Theo Santoso and Elbert Soesilo, who were on board the AirAsia flight.
Teachers comforted students mourning the loss of their two friends, saying they are now with God.
Ten-year-old Nikolas, known as an outspoken and cheerful student to his peers and teachers, always liked to ask questions in class and tell stories.
“We will miss him, our classroom will be quiet without him,” says Fony Sanjaya, Nikolas’ teacher.
An empty space now stands where 11-year-old Elbert’s desk used to be in the middle of the classroom.
Sanjaya described Elbert as a polite, active boy who “never forgot to say thank you,” and loved playing soccer and basketball.
Before the school broke off for the holidays in December, she asked both boys what the new year would mean for both of them.
She recalls Nikolas vowing to work hard at school and Elbert saying he “wants to be a better person” in 2015.
The Meiji Thejakusuma, Stevie Gunawan and Jo Indri
For days, Suyono Thejakusuma tried to hold out hope. But on Monday, he sat near a candlelit altar in front of a pair of coffins belonging to his 44-year-old sister and his 10-year-old niece, two of seven family members who were aboard the flight.
“I am devastated,” Suyona said. “And now, the waiting for the rest of the family is so difficult.”
At a traditional Buddhist funeral visitation, mourners paid their respects to the mother and daughter. Families and friends folded up hundreds of pieces of paper thrown into fire to represent money that will symbolically provide for them in the afterlife.
Suyono described his niece Stevie as a “very cheerful girl.” She turned 10 two weeks before their flight left for Singapore, a trip she was very much looking forward to, her family said.
“She brightens up everyone she’s around,” he said. “Everybody loves her.”
The Meiji Thejakusuma was a businesswoman working in the apparel industry and often traveled internationally, her family said.
“She worked hard. She was kind to everybody,” said The Ie Hua Thejakusuma, another sister.
Among the family members who are still missing: Jo Indri, 81, the matriarch of her family.
“I cannot accept this. I cannot believe it,” Suyono said. “Where are my family’s bodies? Where is my mother? My heart is breaking.”
Khairunisa Haidar Fauzi
A flight attendant on the plane, Khairunisa Haidar Fauzi was adventurous and passionate about travel, according to her parents.
The 22-year-old would always call before she flew to tell her parents the route she was working, said her mother, Rohana.
Her parents heard what had happened as they were on their way to a wedding Sunday. A relative called them asking, “Where did Nisa fly?” said her father, Haidar Fauzi.
Her body was identified Friday, in part by her flight attendant’s uniform and pin. Her parents said she will be buried in her hometown of Palembang on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Hayati Lutfiah Hamid
The first funeral for a victim from the crash was held Thursday in Surabaya, Indonesia.
Hayati Lutfiah Hamid’s body arrived by ambulance and men in uniform unloaded the coffin. Family and friends gathered to watch the coffin lowered into the ground at a cemetery. A gravestone was marked with her name and the date December 28, 2014.
Hamid was the first crash victim identified.
Donna Indah Nurwatie, Gusti Made Bobi Sidartha, Gusti Atu Putriyan Permata, Gusti Ayu Made Keish Putri
At first, Maria Endang Wirasmi didn’t want to believe her family was on the plane. But as she read through the manifest, the 65-year-old says she came to terms with a devastating reality.
“First I saw my son-in-law’s name. I didn’t tell my husband, because I didn’t want him to panic. It was only after I saw my daughter’s name and my two granddaughters’ names on the list that I told him,” she said.
Now, she says she’s dealing with the possibility that her loved ones didn’t survive the crash.
“I know this is a big tragedy, but why did this happen to my daughter? I know everyone dies when it’s time, but I believe in an afterlife, so my way to cope with my loss, I will pray more often and give this to God,” she said.
Her husband, Imam Sampurno, said he was relieved the plane had been found.
“We hope that our children will be saved by a miracle,” he said.
Sidartha, the couple’s son-in-law, was a property developer in Indonesia, Channel News Asia reported. The family was on their way to Singapore for a vacation.
Soetikno Sia, Jou Christine Yuanita, Jou Yongki, Feilensia Sularmo Go, Elisabeth Youvita, and Brian Youvito
Theresia Song spoke with her mother the night before Flight 8501 took off. Her parents, aunt, uncle and two cousins were traveling together, planning to vacation in Singapore and celebrate New Year’s there.
For days, she has been following details about the search for the plane from her home in Seattle, thousands of miles away.
On Wednesday, she said she and her brother are planning to head to the Indonesian city of Surabaya to find out more. Attempts to get help from the airline to travel there failed, she said.
“They asked for a lot of things from us, passports, birth certificates and for my uncle to go to the crisis center in Surabaya to arrange it. We got tired of waiting and decided to go on our own,” she said. “There is nothing confirmed as far as what happened to the passengers, and we are still hoping there is a miracle and they survive. I am really hoping we can find them alive.”
Kevin Alexander Soetjipto
A finance student at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, he was due to graduate next year.
He was traveling with his sister and another relative on Flight 8501.
“We are deeply saddened to learn this news in relation to one of our valued student community,” the university said in a statement. “We will be offering counseling support to Kevin’s friends and fellow classmates.”
The university said it learned his body had been found on the day that would have been his 21st birthday.
Alain Oktavianus Siauw
Louise Sidharta, 25, was heading to the airport to pick up her fiance when she heard the news: AirAsia Flight QZ8501 was missing.
Sunday night, surrounded by television cameras, she explained that Siauw was supposed to be enjoying a family vacation before the two got married. “It was to be his last vacation with his family,” she said.
Siauw’s Facebook page says he lives in Malang, a province in Indonesia.
The couple planned to get married in May 2015.
Oei Jimmy Sentosa Winata, his wife, their 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter
At first, Oei Endang Sulsilowati wasn’t worried, even when she heard a plane was missing. She knew her brother usually traveled with a different airline.
“Then someone told me that she saw his name on TV. Then I saw it,” she said, weeping.
Now she says she’s looking for information about her brother, his wife and the couple’s two children.
“We don’t know what to do,” Sulsilowati said. “We are just waiting for news.”
Choi Chi Man and his 2-year-old daughter
British national Choi Chi Man was traveling on the plane with his 2-year-old daughter, Zoe, Alstom Power said on Twitter.
The 48-year-old had just started a job as an executive working for the company in Indonesia, The Independent reported. They were traveling on Flight QZ8501 because an earlier plane was full, the British newspaper said.
In his LinkedIn profile, former colleagues praised Choi for his experience in multicultural work environments, communicating well with people from different cultures.
Reggy Ardhi, Caroline Harwon Lioe, Marianne Claudia Ardhi, Michelle Clemency Ardhi and Jayden Cruz Ardhi
The Ardhi family was traveling together on the plane, planning to celebrate New Year’s in Singapore, according to Yulia Wang, principal at Surabaya Cambridge School, where Jayden, Michelle and Marianne were students.
She described Michelle as a cheerful girl, always having fun and joking with her friends.
“It’s hard to believe. Hopefully they’re safe, but I don’t know, we are just praying now,” Wang said. “Everybody is praying, including their friends.”
One student at the school, she said, tried to send a message to Marianne, asking her to turn on her GPS so she could be found.
There was no reply.
Raven Limadinata said he received a message from Michelle from inside Flight QZ8501 before it took off. Using the messaging app SnapChat, she sent a picture showing the plane’s wing, along with the caption “bye Surabaya.”
Limadinata and Michelle have been “best friends since we first met,” he said.
“She doesn’t talk a lot, but she is a smart girl,” he said.
Astutik, 40, had worked for years as a maid in Singapore
She returned to Indonesia to attend a wedding last month, Channel News Asia reported, citing an employment agent who had traveled to the airport to give Astutik her work permit.
Park Seong Beom
A missionary who had been teaching Korean and computer skills in Indonesia, Park Seong Beom, his wife and their 11-month-old baby were on the flight, heading to Singapore to renew visas, Channel News Asia reported.
Before their arrival in Indonesia in September, they had been missionaries in Cambodia for four years.
“He had good local contacts and helped poor people in need,” Kim Jong Heon, a spokesman for Park’s church in the South Korean fishing village of Yeosu, told Channel News Asia. “He was always thinking about how to meet more locals and eventually left the country to be a lay minister.”
Florentina Maria Widodo
Andy Chen told Channel News Asia that his girlfriend, a biology teacher, was on the missing plane.
David Gunawan, his wife and their two children
Sienny Gunawan told CNN’s Andrew Stevens that she is still holding out hope that the older brother she spent every Friday with is still alive. “I try to be strong for my family,” she said. “Maybe you can call me crazy but I feel in my heart he’s still alive somewhere…I don’t know. ”
Pilot Captain Irianto
A veteran of the skies, Irianto, 53, had more than 20,000 flying hours under his belt, 6,100 of which were with AirAsia on the Airbus 320.
He was an F-16 fighter jet pilot with the Indonesian air force and retired early to become a commercial airline pilot, the Jakarta Post reported.
In his spare time, he was a member of a motorcycle club, according to media reports. Pictures on Facebook show the captain posing with a motorcycle.
A post on a social media account thought to belong to the pilot’s daughter, Angela Anggi Ranastianis, reads: “Dad, please come home, I still need you. Please return, Dad. Dad, come home Dad. You have to come home.”
Irianto’s wife, Rr. Widiya Sukati Putri, said she wanted to know where he was.
“I hope as his wife, he will be back well and alive. The children still need a father, I still also need guidance from a husband,” she said. “He’s a good husband in my eyes and he’s a faithful husband, a great husband. I can’t name all his qualities.”
The family, which lives in Indonesia, had recently suffered a loss. The captain’s younger brother died of diabetes just days ago.
“I want my son to come back, alive and well,” his father, Suwarto, told the BBC. “But if that’s not meant to be, if God doesn’t want that, it’s in the hands of fate.”
First Pilot Remi Emmanuel Plesel
The plane’s 46-year-old co-pilot originally hailed from the French Caribbean island of Martinique.
“Since his childhood, he wanted to be an airplane pilot,” said his mother, Rolande Plesel, according to Le Parisien.
His mother told media there that she had gotten a call from his girlfriend on Sunday with news of the missing flight.
He studied in Paris, according to French media, and had worked as an engineer for the Total oil company, but left to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot, Martinique 1ère reported.
The first officer had a total of 2,275 flying hours with AirAsia Indonesia. He was the president of a French pilot association.
He’d been working as a pilot in Indonesia for three years, Le Parisien said, and he called his family in Martinique before each flight.
On Saturday, he called them on his iPad, looking at all the family’s Christmas decorations from afar.
CNN’s Gary Tuchman, Andrew Stevens, David Molko, Elizabeth Joseph, Jethro Mullen, Justin Lear, Rosa Flores, Lucy Isman, Wilfred Chan, Dorrine Mendoza, Joe Johns, Tony Marco and Michael Holmes and journalist Naomi Ng contributed to this report.