For former beauty queen Anggi Mahesti, it was most disconcerting to miss the flight just by minutes. But that was before she learned what had happened.
Her 10-member extended family had long been planning for a grand holiday in Singapore, including a visit to Universal Studios for the five kids in their group. But they didn’t know there was a change in their flight schedule.
Her husband Ari Putro Cahyono didn’t open an e-mail from AirAsia informing them the flight was to be brought forward two hours to a 5:35 a.m. departure. He also missed a phone call from the carrier earlier this month.
And so AirAsia Flight QZ8501 took off from the central Indonesian city of Surabaya that Sunday morning without them. In all, 26 people who bought tickets for the flight failed to board the plane.
“It was already the final call when my husband reached the airport in the first car with our bags,” Mahesti, 27, told Bloomberg News. “Most of the family were in another car that arrived 15 minutes later. The plane left without us.”
About half an hour later, as she and her husband were negotiating with the ground staff for a later flight, the Airbus A320 plane that they failed to take was already in mid-flight.
The pilot was asking permission from the control tower to fly at a higher altitude because of the stormy weather.
Five minutes later, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, the plane lost communication with the tower, and, a minute more, fell off the radar.
“At first, we were angry with AirAsia and our travel agent,” Mahesti said.
Around 9:00 a.m., an airport official approached them and uttered the words they would never forget.
“This must have been the best Christmas gift your family ever received,” the official said, and informed them about what could have happened to the plane.
“We felt completely limp, the whole family,” Mahesti’s sister-in-law Christianawati told Fairfax Media, “It was like we’d lost our spirit.”
As of Tuesday, aircraft and ships from at least four nations were still searching for the plane that vanished off Borneo with 155 passengers and seven crew on board. Of the 155 passengers, 137 were adults, 17 children and one an infant.
The family decided not to take another flight that day. “We were scared and didn’t want to tempt fate,” Mahesti said.
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