North Sumatra, Indonesia – Families and friends of the passengers on Sriwijaya Air flight SJ 182 which crashed into the Java Sea soon after takeoff on Saturday have spoken about the deadly incident, saying they still have hope despite the plane’s flight recorders, which record cockpit voice and flight data, being located.
Five members of Yudi Qurdani’s family were among the 62 people on board the plane – according to the flight’s manifest – which lost contact with air traffic control just four minutes after taking off from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta.
The plane’s destination was Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province on Indonesia’s Borneo island, about 740km (460 miles) away.
Qurdani’s uncle Toni Ismail, aunt Rahmawati, and cousin Ratih Windania were flying back to Pontianak from a family holiday in Bandung in Java, along with Ratih’s daughter, four-year-old Yumna Fani Syatuzahr. Qurdani’s eight-year-old nephew Athar Rizki Riawan was also travelling with them, although his parents had stayed back in Pontianak.
They were not even supposed to be on the plane.
“They bought tickets to fly back to Pontianak on [Saturday] at 7am on NAM Air,” Qurdani told Al Jazeera.
“But the night before, the airline told us that the flight had been changed to 1:30pm and that it would be a Sriwijaya Air plane. They just did what they were told and went to the airport in the afternoon.”
The family suspects that NAM Air, which is a subsidiary of Sriwijaya Air, transferred the passengers to the later flight due to low ticket sales.
The merged flights also meant that the Sriwijaya Air plane was carrying six extra crew from the cancelled NAM Air flight, including Captain Didik Gunardi, First Officer Fadly Satrianto and four cabin crew.
On Sunday, Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) released photographs of officials recovering debris and other items from the suspected crash site, including a child’s pink T-shirt, which Qurdani believes belonged to Yumna.
“She was not wearing it when she left, but her mother had packed it in her suitcase. She wore it often, so we recognised it at once when we saw it on TV. We are 80 percent sure that it is her T-shirt,” he said.
Before she boarded the plane to Pontianak, Yumna’s mother, Windania, posted a series of Instagram stories of the family walking through the airport, one of which was captioned: “Bye bye all my family … We’re going home ya.”
The posts have since gone viral, with members of the public leaving messages of condolence.
Qurdani, speaking to Al Jazeera from Kramat Jati Police Hospital in Jakarta where the family has gathered to wait for news and assist with the identification process, said Athar’s parents have already given DNA samples in Pontianak, and Ismail and Rahmawati’s family have given samples in Jakarta.
“We also saw on TV that they have found the black boxes and we just hope there are survivors. We will continue to hope and ask for help from God that they are alive,” he said.
“But we are also preparing ourselves for anything, even the worst. We hope we can handle whatever is coming.”
According to the flight manifest, the plane was carrying six crew members and 46 adult passengers, seven children and three infants, including Rizki Wahyudi, his wife Indah Halimah Putri, mother-in-law Rosi Wahyuni, and three-month-old daughter, Nabila Anjani.
Wahyudi worked at Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan according to the Indonesian Forest Rangers (PolHut) who confirmed the news through their WhatsApp channel.
He also often met with local NGOs including the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) where he was focused on initiatives to help the environment and was particularly interested in orangutan conservation, a source who did not wish to be named told Al Jazeera.
His cousin, Ebta, told local media that Wahyudi had travelled to Jakarta to bring his wife and daughter back to Pontianak.
His wife had been isolating while pregnant during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Ebta, which is why she had not travelled to Pontianak when Wahyudi had first been stationed at the national park.
Also on the flight were Mulyadi P Tamsir and his wife Makrufatul Yeti.
The couple had just married last month and were on their way from Jakarta, where they lived, to Mulyadi’s hometown in Pontianak so that he could introduce his new wife to his extended family, said Alwi Hasbi Silalahi, the head of the Muslim Student’s Association (HMI), North Sumatra and Mulyadi’s former colleague and friend.
Mulyadi was the head of HMI Indonesia from 2016 to 2018, but had left to work for Hanura, one of Indonesia’s political parties, and Silalahi said the news of the downed plane had created an outpouring of grief throughout the HMI community.
“The last time I spoke to Mulyadi was about his wedding. Then the next thing I hear is that he was on the plane,” Silalahi told Al Jazeera, adding that he was shocked when he heard that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control.
“All his friends are so sad to hear this news, especially as he just got married and was about to start a family. We are praying for him and his safety. All of HMI across Indonesia is in mourning and we are praying as hard as we can.”
Silalahi added that a special prayer event had been organised online for Sunday evening so that HMI members across the country could pray together virtually for his safe recovery.
“We hope he is still alive,” he said. “We are just waiting.”