Jan 4, 2015 3:08 AM

Prayers held as divers wait to check AirAsia site

The Associated Press

SURABAYA, Indonesia (AP) More than a thousand worshippers attended somber Sunday services at an Indonesian church devastated by the crash of AirAsia Flight 8501, praying for relatives of lost loved ones members of the congregation who made up a quarter of the 162 people aboard the plane.

"God, we pray that you will give the grieving families extraordinary strength and help ease their pain," said the Rev. Johannes Sonny Susanto of Pentecostal Mawar Sharon Church. "Let them put their trust in you and know that you are a good God."

Amen was echoed by those in the pews.

It is not clear what caused the Singapore-bound plane to plummet into the Java Sea 42 minutes after taking off from Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, last Sunday. Minutes before losing contact, the pilot told air traffic control he was approaching threatening clouds, but was denied permission to climb to a higher altitude because of heavy air traffic.

Despite a massive international search and recovery operation, only 31 bodies have been found so far, in large part because of bad weather. But after locating what appears to be a massive part of the fuselage, officials said it was possible that many passengers and crew will be found inside the wreckage.

Divers waited for breaks in the weather Sunday to reach the site, but rolling seas stirred up silt and mud, leaving them with zero visibility, said Henry Bambang Soelistyo, chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency. They had to turn back because conditions were so bad.

"At this moment, it's impossible to send any divers," he said. "We'll wait until the weather gets better."

Twenty planes and helicopters were being deployed Sunday together with 27 ships from Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States searching for the all-important black boxes and pieces of wreckage.

The investigation got a huge boost this weekend when sonar equipment identified five giant objects on the sea bed in the search area, but no images have been captured confirming they are part of the AirAsia plane.

The biggest piece of debris, measuring 18 meters (59 feet) long and 5.4 meters (18 feet) wide, appeared to be part of the jet's body, Soelistyo said. Four other chunks were found in the same area.

Suspected plane parts also were seen scattered on beaches during an aerial survey.

Another body was recovered Sunday, Soelistyo said, bringing the total so far to 31.

Family members of those who died in the disaster, meanwhile, continued to wait, hoping that at the very least the bodies would be returned to them so they could be properly buried.

Many attended a small, intimate chapel service at the police headquarters where the crisis center is based, some sobbing so hard they had to be consoled by church counselors who hugged and prayed for them.

The Rev. Philip Mantofa locked eyes with an Indonesian man who lost a child and was sitting in the first row.

"If God has called your child, allow me to say this: Your child is not to be pitied," he said. "Your child is already in God's arms. One day, your family will be reunited in heaven."

Mantofa urged the man to be strong for the sake of his three remaining children.

"We are sad, but we are not like those without hope," he said. "God, against all odds, we pray that there will be survivors, but alive or dead, help the rescuers find all the bodies. Help the families to move on."


Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini, Ali Kotarumalos, Margie Mason and Robin McDowell in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.


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