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Surabaya's Christian Community Remembers AirAsia Victims

Members of Mawar Sharon Church, which lost about 40 members who were aboard AirAsia Flight 8501, attend a prayer service for the crash victims' relatives, in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, Jan. 4, 2015.
Members of Mawar Sharon Church, which lost about 40 members who were aboard AirAsia Flight 8501, attend a prayer service for the crash victims' relatives, in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, Jan. 4, 2015.

While rough seas continued to hamper search efforts for AirAsia Flight 8501, Christian church services across Surabaya Sunday honored the memory of its 162 passengers and crew.

The tragedy weighed heavily on Surabaya’s Christian community. One church lost 40 of its parishioners when the Airbus jet crashed in the Java Sea. While Indonesia is overwhelmingly Muslim, Surabaya has a strong Christian minority.

Pastor Bernardo Kariodimadjo, from the International Christian Assembly in Surabaya, said the local community had been brought together by the tragedy.

“It has been such a distraught moment for all of us. We even held an impromptu prayer night for both the 30th and 31st, we opened up the church for prayer,” Kariodimadjo said.

“In the wake of these events, we changed our sermons here to about facing life's pain. So it’s something that is very near to our hearts and the focus and attention has gone to these people,” he said.

Families drained

The Rev. Philip Mantofa, who heads the congregation at Mawar Sharon Church, where more than a quarter of the victims were members, urged those gathered to find comfort in their faith.

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

Families of the victims are emotionally drained a week after the aircraft’s disappearance. A crisis center has been set up at a Surabaya police hospital that has been prepared to receive over 150 bodies.

The search for bodies and debris from the aircraft moved into a new phase Sunday with deployment of locators to pinpoint signals from the jet’s vital black box data recorders. Investigators are looking to the recorders to reveal the plane's final moments.

Indonesian TV Sunday continued almost constant coverage of the tragedy, pointing to the difficult tasks of recovering bodies and transporting them to Surabaya to be formally identified.

Java Sea waters roiled by the seasonal monsoon are adding to the challenges.

On Sunday up to 90 divers from Russia and Indonesia had hoped to dive to locate the vital flight data recorders. But sea conditions continued to frustrate their efforts.

More than 70 vessels, planes and helicopters are combing an area near the Karimata Strait, 176 kilometers west of the Kalimantan township of Pangkalan Bun.

National Transportation Safety Committee head Tatang Kurniadi said search teams are using sonar, hydrophones and "ping" detectors to pinpoint the flight data recorders.

Trapped in bad weather

Sunday, a report by Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, or BMKG, said the jet appeared to have been trapped in bad weather difficult to avoid. The BMKG said freezing rain into the engines and consequent icing may have contributed to the tragedy.

Indonesia's Transportation Ministry has suspended AirAsia's Flight 8501 service until it completes a formal investigation.

The ministry said the airline was flying the Sunday Surabaya to Singapore route without a permit, with the December 28 service also departing two hours ahead of schedule. The carrier only has permission to fly the route Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Analysts say the carrier faces potential litigation, including issues over insurance claims and the threat of having AirAsia’s license in Indonesia revoked.

Indonesian officials Sunday said they were hopeful the recovery operation may be complete within two weeks.

But an interim official report into the accident, the first for AirAsia since it began operations as a low-cost carrier in Indonesia in 2006, is weeks away. A final investigation report may take up to 12 months.